Energy & Environment

Our responsibility to the Earth

"But what have you done for me lately?"

If our planet could ask that question, we'd definitely have a better answer this year than last. Just before Earth Day 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded -- a disaster that ultimately dumped more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico and wreaked unprecedented havoc on ecosystems, wildlife, and communities.

Not a good day for the Earth.

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Celebrating clean energy’s castoff

You would think that on Earth Day an energy source that is affordable, abundant, reliable and most importantly doesn’t create any emissions would be celebrated. For some reason, though, nuclear power remains a pariah in clean energy circles.

It is likely that one in five of you reading this online right now is doing it on a computer powered by nuclear energy. There are more than 100 reactors in 31 states supplying about 20 percent of our nation’s electricity. Unfortunately that number hasn’t changed much since go-go boots and bell bottoms were all the rage.

The sad fact for both the environment and the job market is that it has been more than 30 years since a new nuclear facility has been constructed in the United States.

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Going green for innovation

As a former member of the California Coastal Commission, the California Air Resources Board and current member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I have long been an active steward of environmental issues. What these experiences have taught me is that it is difficult to be an environmentalist without encountering some sort of paradox that suggests otherwise. 

As we celebrate Earth Day, it is important to take a moment and understand these paradoxes and the challenges they present. Take surfing as an example. I have been a surfer all my life and deeply understand how surfing compels those devoted to their vocation to be in harmony with the environment.

But what many surfers don’t realize is that we leave a larger footprint than what is washed away by the tide. Surfboards are made of toxic polymers, wetsuits and wax are made from petroleum, and surfers leave a significant carbon footprint as they travel by air, land and sea with their boards in tow.

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The rise of Mother Earth

The United Nations will soon consider a draft treaty penned by Bolivian President Evo Morales that would radically transform international law. If enacted, the treaty based on Bolivia’s recently-passed “Law of Mother Earth,” would give plants, animals, and bugs (daffodils, salamanders, and grasshoppers) the same legal rights as human beings.

What could be wrong with that? After all, Earth Day is coming up, which is like Mother’s Day for those who love Mother Earth. Who doesn’t love their Mother?

There is nothing wrong with loving Mother Earth. The problem is that many people who profess their love for Mother Earth also preach scorn for their brothers and sisters in the human race.

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Policy post-Macondo: A year of living dangerously

The world has changed since the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago that cost the lives of 11 rig workers and resulted in the biggest oil spill in the nation’s history. Not only has the federal government tightened its oversight of offshore drilling, but the industry itself has implemented numerous additional safeguards to ensure a major blowout won’t re-occur. At the same time, political unrest in Middle East and North Africa—with attendant jumps in oil and gasoline prices—has thrust energy security into the public consciousness.

This isn’t the first time our economic and energy security have been put at risk by political unrest in far-away places. But perhaps this latest spike in oil prices can be a true “Sputnik moment” for moving ahead with a sensible national energy policy that focuses on developing our domestic potential. Unfortunately, both the public and politicians appear confused about how to achieve greater energy security.

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One year after the gulf, a plan to mitigate future spills

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, exactly one year ago today, triggered one of the worst environmental catastrophes in our nation’s history, with some 200 million gallons of oil eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. 

It’s important to remember that this was also a worker safety tragedy – 11 workers died and 17 were injured. As Ranking Member of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, I’ll be fighting to make sure there are the strictest possible safety standards for the benefit of the men and women who do this kind of work.

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Don't blame the Santa Ana Sucker

Thursday’s opinion piece by Douglas Headrick of the San Bernardino Valley Water District (“Poor Oversight Leaves California Dry”) simply doesn’t hold water.

Headrick claimed that California’s State Water Project is unable to provide enough water to agencies because of the Santa Ana sucker, a small fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In fact, the sucker is completely unrelated to the State Water Project. The real reason the author wants endangered species protections removed is to prevent releases from the local dam – which, not insignificantly, would also deprive many residents of Southern California of their primary water supply.

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US must dig on rare earth metals

Even as technology becomes increasingly critical to the way we live our lives, power our world and defend our shores, the United States has allowed the production of minerals crucial in the creation of these advanced products to slide. 

Critical to high-tech clean-energy and defense manufacturing, rare-earth elements (REEs) are minerals used in the production of cutting-edge technologies such as wind turbines, batteries for mobile phones, laptop computers, the planet’s most powerful magnets, military radar and sophisticated weapon systems  — just to name a few. 

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Poor oversight leaves California dry

California has just had one of its wettest winters in memory. But even with the Sierra Nevada snowpack at 165 percent of normal, California’s State Water Project can supply only 70 percent of what water agencies need.

Why?

Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ordered cutbacks in water deliveries to protect the Delta smelt, an endangered fish that lives in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which supplies two-thirds of California’s population.

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Nuclear security after Fukushima

The devastating and immediate effects of the March 11 tsunami on the six reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station are now well known, though events are still playing out and even more dangerous radiation leakages may yet occur. The global panic resulting from this disaster is a stark reminder that nuclear power, as opposed to more conventional means of generating electricity, still confronts a range of thorny issues, including safety and security, that prevents more widespread adoption.

Though the specter of a global nuclear catastrophe will remain in the public consciousness for years to come, the more surprising reality is how few serious nuclear accidents have occurred relative to how widely nuclear reactors and nuclear warheads have been deployed worldwide.

In the case of Japan, casualties from the earthquake and tsunami will be exponentially greater than those caused by radiation exposure. But we have been lucky. There have been numerous near misses, ranging from a reactor criticality incident in Japan and radiation leaks in India to the U.S. B-52 bomber accident that resulted in the release — but thankfully not detonation — of four nuclear bombs over Palomares, Spain, in 1966.

Continued good fortune is not something policymakers should count on, and it is certainly no substitute for sound and forward-looking nuclear policy.

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