Energy & Environment

Focus on the Solyndra default distracts from the benefits of solar

There is a segment of the U.S. economy that employs more than 100,000 people – and during the past year, employment in that segment grew by more than 6.8 percent.
Compare that to the 0.7 percent growth in the economy as a whole and this is clearly a bright spot in the still-struggling American economy.
That bright spot is the U.S. solar industry. And despite some well-publicized glitches, solar is one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation – and poised to continue growing and supplying more clean power to millions of Americans.
The recent grilling of Solyndra executives before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was a headline-making affair – but it did little to address the real issue: the need to curb America’s dangerous addiction to foreign oil while investing in domestic energy.


Energy efficiency programs have real value

The tension between protecting the environment and stimulating the economy is boiling over today in Washington.

The most recent flashpoint is over claims that new interstate air pollution standards for the utility sector are overly burdensome, and could negatively impact the economy. This comes on the heels of the recent, hotly contested move by the Obama Administration to table two other regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would have sought to reduce harmful ozone and greenhouse gas emissions; in doing so, the Administration cited concerns that the regulations could lead to billions in lost costs for businesses.

But pitting environmental and public health protections against economic growth is a false choice. As Congress and the Administration look for more effective ways to balance these two imperatives, they should prioritize - not punish - America's cleanest, most affordable energy resource: energy efficiency.


Rhetoric or reality at FERC

In June, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said all the right things about who will pick up the $160 billion tab to federalize America’s electricity grid. “Costs must be allocated at least roughly commensurate with estimated benefits; those that receive no benefits should not be allocated costs,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff stated when the Commission issued its Order 1000 on transmission planning and cost allocation.

For those worried about FERC forcing consumers in some states to subsidize long-distance transmission lines to nowhere, when cheaper and green sources of power were available closer to home, Wellinghoff’s statement was welcome news.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding. At FERC’s monthly meeting on October 20, we will learn whether “beneficiary pays” serves as the guiding principle of transmission policy or is just empty rhetoric. For the first time since FERC enunciated its transmission policy, the commission will demonstrate how Order 1000 will be implemented.

Unfortunately, there is little reason for optimism. Almost nothing in the commission’s 620-page transmission order supports FERC’s oratory. Order 1000 is riddled with major problems, creates uncertainty about its implementation, and gives too much power to regional organizations. The Commission intends to establish by regulatory fiat a national clean energy policy never endorsed by Congress and wants hard-pressed industries and homeowners to pay a surtax on their utility bills to finance it.


Stop, collaborate, and listen

The seasons may change, but the continued attention that natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing, (more popularly known as fracking,) receives does not. This summer saw a lot of activity associated with fracking.An eminent committee was assembled by DOE Secretary Chu to weigh in on actions the industry and federal agencies should implement, New York provided guidelines of where fracking should and shouldn’t be done, New Jersey first attempted to permanently ban and then issued a one-year moratorium on fracking, Texas required disclosure of fracking fluids, and NGOs continue to apply pressure to ensure that safeguards are put into place.

Perhaps most alarming for the natural gas industry is a growing group of landowners who are second guessing their participation in the process, either because they feel that they are not being sufficiently compensated or because they are concerned about potential environmental impacts.
The industry has demonstrated a commitment to address some of the key concerns raised by fracking, including fracking fluids’ potential impact on drinking water during injection and disposal.

As the New York Times recently noted, companies are affirming the practical benefits of addressing these concerns head on. Rebecca Thingelstad, an engineer from oil and gas company Anadarko, emphasized the financial benefits beyond building goodwill: ”If everyone's comfortable with it, you can get your permits through faster.”


Congress should vote to protect renewable coal ash

This week the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected President Obama’s jobs bill. But there is another jobs bill on the horizon, and this one can pass the Senate.

I authored H.R. 2273 to establish a state-based regulatory framework for the disposal and management of coal ash and it is set to hit the House floor today. It will improve the economy and strengthen public health, and unlike most things in Washington these days, is genuinely bipartisan.

Coal ash is an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity. Much of it is recycled to make concrete and other building materials more durable and less water-intensive, which in turn benefits the environment.

Recently, President Obama’s EPA has proposed regulating it as a hazardous material, but two EPA studies under the Clinton administration found that coal ash was not hazardous. Another study found ruling coal as a hazardous material could eliminate up to 316,000 jobs over the next 20 years. And already, the stigma the EPA has created surrounding coal ash’s use has had a chilling effect on the various industries that recycle it.


Why Keystone XL is not in the national interest

Pressure is building on the Obama administration to reach a final decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department seems to be siding with backers of the project. The favorable environmental impact statement it has just released does not wholly dispel the reservations of the EPA and private environmental groups, but it carries political weight. Still, before construction can begin, the pipeline needs a finding that it is in the national interest. It is not.
Keystone XL, if built, would carry bitumen from Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. Its backers claim it will enhance national security without harm to the environment and create jobs in the process. Those claims are dubious.
Let’s begin with security. Granted, the U.S. addiction to imported oil, much of it from countries that are unfriendly, undemocratic, or both, does create security threats. One comes from the periodic spikes in world oil prices that disrupt our economy. The Libyan conflict, which pushed oil prices over $100 a barrel last spring, helping to stall the recovery, is a case in point. A second security threat lies in tendency of oil wealth to find its way to groups that are hostile to the United States and its allies. Backers claim that a pipeline that assures a steady flow of oil from a stable, nearby country would be better than continued reliance on distant, often uncertain sources.


On EPA rules, let the public clear the air

Every shred of public polling shows that the American voter is unhappy with Congress. However, an area that has historically been a clear point of partisanship is surprisingly bi-partisan according to a poll we released today. By a wide margin, voters of both political parties disagree with Congress’ anti-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agenda and support the EPA’s new rules to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The poll, conducted on behalf of Ceres from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7, gauged voters’ feelings about two EPA clean air rules - the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule (also known as the Utility MACT). The first rule will require significant reductions in harmful power plant emissions, mostly from coal-fired generators, that drift hundreds of miles downwind and across state lines. The second rule will require power plants to curb toxic emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic and acid gases by 2015. Many of the power plants impacted by these rules are more than 50 years old.


Memo to Congress and candidates: American biofuels boost job creation

From Capitol Hill to the campaign trail, the top three issues are jobs, jobs and jobs. For all the nation’s economic problems, public officials and political candidates don’t need to rack their brains for untested schemes for reinventing the economy. Many quintessentially American industries with proven records of job creation hold the promise of exponential job growth if given a chance. American ethanol is one such industry, and it deserves a fresh look and strong support.

While Americans are understandably concerned with the near-double-digit national unemployment rate, less attention is being paid to positive news about regional and local economies, especially in the nation’s heartland. The Midwest is home to the three states with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation – North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota -- and three more states in the top 15 -- Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota. Further, the latest Gallup job creation index shows three Midwest states -- North Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska -- in the top 10, with North Dakota in the top spot.

Much of this Midwestern jobs boom is rooted in energy production, particularly renewable energy, such as ethanol, which has surged in recent years. In the past decade, the ethanol industry has grown from 50 biorefineries producing 1.8 billion gallons of fuel per year to more than 200 facilities producing nearly 14 billion gallons.


World bank weighs in on U.S. tax code, fossil fuel 'subsidies'

A newly leaked World Bank report calls on 24 OECD countries to boost tax burdens on their oil and gas sectors—eventually by as much as $40-$60 billion annually—in order to funnel part of the money raised to carbon-trading and other environmental concerns.
This would include the World Bank’s Clean Development Mechanism—a program that has even elicited howls of criticism from carbon-emission-trading supporters for not being sufficiently harsh on traditional energy sources. This effort precedes last year’s pledge by G20 countries, including the United States, to scrap so-called fossil fuel “subsidies.”
The World Bank should know better that politics and policy often clash when it comes to energy production, having come under fire itself last year when it provided $3.75 billion to finance a giant coal plant in South Africa. U.S. taxpayers also have legitimate questions over how many (or whether any) of their dollars should be sunk into multilateral lending institutions associated with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. And while several developing nations do subsidize fuel consumption through price ceilings on everyday items like cooking oil and gasoline, OECD countries conversely tax oil and gas far more than they subsidize it.


Congress must act now to stop filthy factory farming of the sea

It’s not every summer that a fish lands on the cover of TIME Magazine. But that’s just what happened this July, signaling that the future of our nation’s fisheries has become a pressing issue to be seriously debated among the federal government, environmental and consumer groups and of course, fishermen. Unfortunately, this debate was heating up at a time when Congress was mostly focused on issues like the debt ceiling – and right before they left town for congressional summer vacations.

Now that the summer is over, it’s time for Congress to weigh in.

“There's no denying that aquaculture [fish farming] can be messy,” the TIME story acknowledged. “A badly run near-shore farm of 200,000 salmon can flush nitrogen and phosphorus into the water at levels equal to the sewage from a town of 20,000 people.”