Energy & Environment

Protect Americans from toxic coal ash

As a native Wisconsinite, I winced when I learned that the toxic coal ash spill into Lake Michigan happened in Oak Creek. But my next reaction was one that should be shared by each of the millions of Americans who get their drinking water from Lake Michigan. I was angry -- because this was exactly the kind of accident that should never have been allowed to happen.

Just three years ago, Americans saw an even worse coal ash spill in Tennessee, when a billion gallons of toxic sludge poured onto farmland and into the Emory and Clinch rivers. Coal ash is the waste that is left over after burning coal for electricity, and it contains arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, and many other dangerous metals that leach into our water supply.

In that disaster, we saw first-hand the consequences of delegating the job of handling coal ash to state regulators who lack the will and ability to protect communities. We thought it would be the final straw and that national safeguards to protect Americans from this hazardous material would surely follow. 


A time to shine

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently announced a new comprehensive plan to develop solar energy on federal public lands in the West. Interior’s approach to guide solar development to appropriate low-conflict areas, or “energy zones,” will help reduce time and costs for permitting, providing greater certainty for project success and generating clean energy faster. This type of solar development is what Salazar calls “Smart from the Start." 

The new plan, contained in a document supplementing the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, is the result of months of work by the Obama administration to address concerns and recommendations submitted jointly from conservation groups and solar industry companies, and from more than 80,000 public comments from people across the nation earlier this year. 

The document provides additional environmental analysis of 17 proposed solar energy zones and explains that seven of the zones originally proposed were eliminated, some because they were “stranded” without transmission, others because of lack of industry interest or high environmental conflicts. It also details a process for adding additional development areas and provides developers with some flexibility to site well-designed projects outside of zones through a variance process.


Dissecting pipeline protests from the White House to the Cornhusker State

Passage of a pending bill in Nebraska’s special legislative session could lead to a lengthy series of court battles over the issue of states’ rights and federal law. Though not as historically significant as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling and the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Nebraska fight has resulted in considerable activism.
Nearly 1,000 people were arrested in front of the White House in September for protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline. That number may pale in comparison to 1960s arrest figures, but in the era of Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, it takes a lot to get anyone off the couch anymore. And now, protesters physically encircled the White House during a demonstration this Sunday.


The REFRESH Act is as important to fueling America as it is to feeding it

Right now, biofuels are being made from crops grown by our farmers. They are being made in American cities and rural communities, reinvigorating our local economies, and by American workers, offering them good-paying, stable jobs in a growing industry. In fact, American ethanol helped create 70,000 jobs in 2010, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
Advanced biofuels offer the ability to expand these benefits with feedstock and fuel production in all 50 states while helping to free us from costly foreign oil – and you from paying for it.
But bringing these biofuels to market takes a partnership, where the private sector provides the innovation and lion’s share of capital to develop it – and the public sector provides consistent policy support to grow it.

That’s why the farm bill is so important.


America needs to cut its dependence on oil

The transportation fuels we choose to use are jeopardizing America’s future, and we need to change our ways.

The two of us— a retired four-star Army general and a retired Navy vice-admiral —serve with a group of our nation’s most senior retired military leaders who feel that it is a national security imperative that the United States cut our petroleum use by 30 percent.  Not at some vague point in the future, but within a decade.

We serve on CNA’s Military Advisory Board, made up of 13 former high-ranking military officers who have served this nation in uniform collectively for more than 400 years.  We have spent decades protecting the links between our country’s security and our energy posture. A report we are presenting on Capitol Hill today (Nov. 2), Ensuring America's Freedom of Movement: A National Security Imperative to Reduce U.S. Oil Dependence, focuses on an increasingly troubling aspect of our energy posture: our heavy reliance on oil.


Why we need to protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund

As Californians, we are fortunate to enjoy some of the most breathtaking landscapes and pristine wilderness in the country, from Muir Woods in the north of our state to the Santa Monica Mountains in the south.  The continued preservation of these and many other sites of great natural beauty across California and the United States is thanks to wise investments made through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). 

Funded by royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on federal lands, the LWCF provides matching grants to states and local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities without using a penny of tax dollars.  These grants are also an investment in our economy.  Outdoor recreation contributed $46 billion, including $28.1 million in retail sales and services, to California’s economy this year, and this economic activity supports approximately 408,000 jobs throughout the state.


EPA thorough on clean air

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) analysis of the benefits and costs of the Clean Air Act is one of the most thorough and thoroughly peer-reviewed cost benefit analyses ever carried out by an institution -- governmental, private, or academic. Margo Thorning’s attempt to discredit it in her Monday blog post is way off base.
Thorning is vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF), whose board consists of representatives of industries who have opposed clean air standards, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Electric Power Research Institute.
EPA estimates that by 2020, the Clean Air Act will bring almost $2 trillion in health and environmental gains, with increased life expectancy accounting for the lion’s share of benefits. But Thorning argues that these benefits are meaningless because they are not counted in gross domestic product (GDP), i.e., they are not actual goods or services exchanged in the market. The fundamental problem with this argument is that confuses GDP with well-being.


Tar sands pipeline will comfort our enemies

As the military’s senior logistician in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, I saw the impact of our oil addition in the Iraq combat zone.  Our appetite for fuel wastes billions of taxpayer dollars, transfers $1 billion daily in our wealth to the Middle East, and puts our soldiers at risk. The fuel trucks we depend upon provide hundreds of convenient rolling targets for our enemy.  My experiences in Iraq convinced me that the greatest threat to our security is our over-reliance on oil and that Americans must immediately take steps to cut our petro-addiction before it’s too late.

The Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t help.  This pipeline would move dirty oil from Canada to refineries in Texas and would set back our renewable energy efforts for at least two decades, much to our enemies’ delight.  It would ensure we maintain our oil addiction and delay making the tough decisions regarding energy production, management and conservation that we need to start making today. 

Transcanada, the company that would own the pipeline, makes various claims about the pipeline’s supposed security benefits.   It claims the pipeline will reduce dependence on Mideast oil, that tar sands will feed a growing US demand, and that it will provide a supply cushion in times of natural or man-made disasters. None of these claims holds up. Transcanada says the project will supply roughly half of the amount of oil the US imports from the Middle East and Venezuela – but conveniently leaves out a crucial detail:  This tar sands oil will not reduce imports from those nations.


EPA’s proposed power-sector air rules will weaken American manufacturing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed two new air quality rules that pose substantial threats to both employment and the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers.  The first is the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) that would cap key emissions crossing state lines and the second is the Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology Rule (MACT) that would set absolute limits in mercury and other chemical emissions.  As designed, the Utility MACT would be the most expensive direct rule in EPA history.  Indeed, the EPA itself has estimated it would impose costs of about $11 billion a year on the U.S. economy, though third-party estimates of compliance costs are considerably higher.

For example, a recent analysis by National Economic Research Associates (NERA) finds that complying with the proposed standards would cost power companies close to $18 billion per year for the next 20 years.  Some coal-fired plants would be so expensive to retrofit they would simply be shut down.  The NERA study also projects that about 48 gigawatts of coal generation would be retired over the next five years, representing a 13 percent decline. 


The high price of EPA regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faced scrutiny on Capitol Hill again this week over the high costs of its record number of environmental regulations.  During a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee, the agency’s air chief denied consequences of the Clean Air Act on jobs and the economy and argued that her agency’s rules relating to automobiles and fuel economy actually creates jobs and support small businesses.

These claims echo those of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who testified earlier this summer before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and cited specious economic benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

An EPA report “The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020” states that the economic value of the Act’s air quality improvements will “reach almost $2 trillion for the year, a value which vastly exceeds the cost of efforts to comply with the requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.” The EPA report goes on to state that “Even if one were to adopt the extreme assumption that air pollution has no effect on premature mortality–or that avoiding such effects has no value—the benefits of reduced non-fatal health effects and visibility improvements alone are more than twice the total cost of compliance with 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment requirements.”