Tag Archives: Environment

More on Clean Energy and Coal

Commenter Don C. takes issue with s0me of James Fallows reasoning:

While I agree that coal needs to continue to be part of the future energy picture, I do not want to be quite so resigned to coal’s dominant place. First, a comment on the statistics in Fallow’s article. To look at the growth of coal from 1995 to 2008 skews the picture. Through many of those years the economy was growing, energy was cheap and there really wasn’t a big push for conservation. If one rather looks at the past five years you’ll see higher energy prices, lower demand (largely because of the recession), more conservation and stepped up use of wind and solar.

Big Oil and Big Coal enjoy fairly hefty subsidies and tax breaks, which serve to keep the prices down. While it is difficult to calculate the real costs of fossil energy caused by climite change, we need to have users of coal and oil bear some of that cost more directly. That’s when coal doesn’t look quite so good. I’m not a fan of Cap-and-Trade, but we had better figure out something. To simply allow the market place have its way, will guarantee 500+ ppm of CO2 and all of its consequences for my children and grandchildren. I’m willing to pay higher gas and KWH prices to see that that doesn’t happen.

I think when it comes to issues involving climate change and dirty fuels like coal, there is an emotional, gut reaction to this: “The earth is dying!  Coal is evil!”  I understand that and appreciate it.  I also think Don is correct that the US really hasn’t got serious when it comes to energy consumption and one could blame Washington for not being more serious about this issue and letting the oil and coal industries get their way.

I also think it would be a good idea to establish a carbon tax.  One way to get people to use less energy is to make it more expensive.  Part of the problem there is that one party in Washington has adopted a hard-line on taxes of any kind and many in that party even doubt global warming is happening.

But I also think there is another issue to think about: even though Don (and myself) would be willing to pay more in order to help reduce the gases that produce global warming, how willing is most of America?  We Americans are not like Europeans and the Japanese, who have always had shaky access to energy sources; we have an over-abundance of energy and we like it cheap.  We complain when gas prices get over $3/gallon, so I don’t see Americans clamoring for a carbon tax.

None of this is to say a carbon tax, shouldn’t be tried; it’s just that it needs someone with balls of steel to be able to tell Americans that they can’t have their cake and eat it too. 

But even with a carbon tax,  I think we still have a problem.  The problem is that we need lots of on-demand energy to power of lifestyle and at least right now, solar and wind don’t provide that.  They do provide stored energy that can be used later and can lessen the amount of coal being used, but Idon’t know if it can replace coal or nuclear- at least not right now.

I think there has to be a way to work towards a clean energy future and also work towards making our current energy sources cleaner.  None of this means giving into the coal industry- it just means tyring to be smarter with what we have now.

Can Coal Lead to a Clean Energy Future?

As someone that owns a Prius, you be correct in assuming that I tend to support clean energy sources like solar and wind energy.  But the more that I know the limits of these energy sources, the more I tend to think that until we can find an source of energy that is clean and on-demand, America and indeed the world have to use some of our current sources of power: nuclear and coal.

James Fallows does and excellent job of explaining why coal might be the path to a clean future.  He explains all the drawbacks of coal and then talks about how China’s experiementation with ways to make coal cleaner might help bring greenhouse gases down.

He explains why coal will be king for a while and why renewables won’t this way:

Isn’t “clean energy” the answer? Of course—because everything is the answer. The people I spoke with and reports I read differed in emphasis, sometimes significantly. Some urged greater stress on efficiency and conservation; some, a faster move toward nuclear power or natural gas; some, an all-out push for solar power and other renewable sources; others, immediate preparation for “geo-engineering” or “abatement” projects to offset the effects of climate disruption once they occur. But in a sense they were all in harmony, because everything on all the lists works toward the same end.

The best-known illustration of the need for an all-fronts approach is the “carbon wedge” analysis from the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton. Its premise is that to keep the carbon-dioxide level from going into the 500s, or twice its pre-industrial-age level, over the next 50 years, the world collectively will need to reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions by a total of about 26 billion tons per year. (Technically, CMI measures its goals in billions of tons of carbon contained within the carbon dioxide. For clarity, I’ve converted the figures.) To reach that total, CMI proposes seven “stabilization wedges” of a little less than 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide each. A 4-billion-ton “wedge” through efficiency efforts of all kinds; another wedge of that size through renewable power; another through avoiding deforestation and changing agricultural practices. Eventually it adds up. “There are many good options,” Julio Friedmann, a geologist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told me soon after I first met him in Beijing two years ago. “But there are no unlimited options. Each is limited by cost, limited by scale, limited by physics and chemistry, limited by thermodynamics. For example, there’s nothing wrong with switchgrass as a biofuel”—one of George W. Bush’s novel proposals—“but there’s not a lot of energy in it.”

We’ll hear from Friedmann again. This emphasis on limits is what begins pointing us back to coal.

“Emotionally, we would all like to think that wind, solar, and conservation will solve the problem for us,” David Mohler of Duke Energy told me. “Nothing will change, our comfort and convenience will be the same, and we can avoid that nasty coal. Unfortunately, the math doesn’t work that way.”

The math he has in mind starts with the role that coal now plays around the world, and especially for the two biggest energy consumers, America and China. Overall, coal-burning power plants provide nearly half (about 46 percent this year) of the electricity consumed in the United States. For the record: natural gas supplies another 23 percent, nuclear power about 20 percent, hydroelectric power about 7 percent, and everything else the remaining 4 or 5 percent. The small size of the “everything else” total is worth noting; even if it doubles or triples, the solutions we often hear the most about won’t come close to meeting total demand. In China, coal-fired plants supply an even larger share of much faster-growing total electric demand: at least 70 percent, with the Three Gorges Dam and similar hydroelectric projects providing about 20 percent, and (in order) natural gas, nuclear power, wind, and solar energy making up the small remainder. For the world as a whole, coal-fired plants provide about half the total electric supply. On average, every American uses the electricity produced by 7,500 pounds of coal each year.

Precisely because coal already plays such a major role in world power supplies, basic math means that it will inescapably do so for a very long time. For instance: through the past decade, the United States has talked about, passed regulations in favor of, and made technological breakthroughs in all fields of renewable energy. Between 1995 and 2008, the amount of electricity coming from solar power rose by two-thirds in the United States, and wind-generated electricity went up more than 15-fold. Yet over those same years, the amount of electricity generated by coal went up much faster, in absolute terms, than electricity generated from any other source. The journalist Robert Bryce has drawn on U.S. government figures to show that between 1995 and 2008, “the absolute increase in total electricity produced by coal was about 5.8 times as great as the increase from wind and 823 times as great as the increase from solar”—and this during the dawn of the green-energy era in America. Power generated by the wind and sun increased significantly in America last year; but power generated by coal increased more than seven times as much. As Americans have read many times, Chinese companies are the world’s leaders in manufacturing solar panels, often using technology originally developed in the United States. Many of the panels are used inside China for its own rapidly growing solar-power system; still, solar energy accounts for about 1 percent of its total power supply. In his book PowerHungry, Bryce describes a visit to a single coal mine, the Cardinal Mine in western Kentucky, whose daily output supports three-quarters as much electricity generation as all the solar and wind facilities in the United States combined. David MacKay, of the physics department at Cambridge University in England, has compiled an encyclopedia of such energy-related comparisons, which is available for free download (under the misleadingly lowbrow title Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air). For instance: he calculates that if the windiest 10 percent of the entire British landmass were completely covered with wind turbines, they would produce power roughly equivalent to half of what Britons expend merely by driving each day.

Fallows received some flak for his article, but I think he is on to something here.  I don’t think Fallows is advocating to ignore clean energy and to just let coal just rule like crazy.  But think about the fact that our need for energy is growing over time, not just because we are just wasteful.  Even in the world of Facebook and Google, we still need energy to run our laptops and iPads (and the new crop of electric cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf). Even if we try to conserve, our energy needs grow with technology.  I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I do know that we are going to need a lot of land full of solar panels and wind turbines to keep up with our thirst for power and even then it won’t be enough.

So, at the end of the day, we need to find a way to combat global warming and also provide a cheap source of energy.  We need to find ways to make the cheapest and easiest form source of energy cleaner and also find alternative sources of energy that are cleaner and plentiful.

Governing In A Partisan World

Christine Todd Whitman has a good op-ed in the latest Ripon Forum on bipartisanship.  Here is what I think is the take away:

One challenge that demands Congress’s full attention, for example, is energy. The United States has not had a national energy plan in decades, and the need for one has never been greater. With the U.S. Department of Energy estimating a 28% increase in electricity demand by 2035, energy companies have to start making decisions now that will affect ratepayers down the line – and even now is bordering on “too late.”

For the environment and energy, it’s clear that societies cannot thrive if the people don’t have clean air to breath, clean water to drink and open space to access. Similarly, the environment needs a thriving economy to fund the next round of clean technologies or to preserve precious open space. And both the environment and the economy need reliable, affordable energy to thrive. Yet, over the course of the past 20 years, Congress has passed into law only one piece of major environmental legislation: the Brownfields Revitalization Act in 2002.

If we look back 40 years, to the early days of the modern environmental movement, we see that Republicans and Democrats came together to enact the environmental laws America so badly needed. It wasn’t easy – many Republicans were wary of too much regulation while some Democrats thought there couldn’t be enough. But recognizing the urgent need for national action, the parties worked out their differences and put into place the foundation of what still largely defines environmental policy in America today.

Indeed, the vast majority of those laws were passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats and signed into law by Republican presidents. The votes on these measures were rarely close. And our economy experienced robust growth. Today, opposing every environmental regulation seems to have become an article of faith with Republicans. Many have forgotten that the EPA was created by President Richard Nixon in response to rivers that were spontaneously combusting due to the dumping of pollutants into our waterways and people were dying every summer from bad air quality.

Now political polarization infects too much of public policymaking. We live in a time where political compromise has become a source of ridicule. We have forgotten the lessons of our Founding Fathers; men of great principle who – while disagreeing on a host of issues, including even whether or not to secede from Great Britain – realized that they were being called upon to act and, so, came together to forge the compromises that gave us our Declaration of Independence, our Confederation of States and, ultimately, our Constitution.

The highwater mark time of bipartisanship that Whitman is referring to in the above paragraphs took place in 1960s, 70s and 80s.  Most skeptics on the loss of bipartisanship say that it was during this era that the parties were still somewhat mixed ideologically, with liberals and conservatives found in both parties.  If we look at environmental issues, we would say that liberals in both parties basically got together and passed legislation that they liked.

While there is some truth to this, such analysis is all to easy.  I have done some reading by what would be called Liberal Republicans of that day, and I can tell you they didn’t always care much for the ways Democrats governed.  They supported (or at least, accepted) the welfare state the came about as a result of the New Deal, but they tended to be more pro-business than their liberal counterparts in the Democratic Party. The long and the short of it is that life was not all hunky-dory as some centrists like to remember it and as some on the left and right want to deride it as.  Bipartisanship was hard work.

Partisanship has been around forever and it’s not a bad thing.  What has been bad lately is the unwillingness to never compromise with others and work together.  It’s easy to stand and make speeches about never surrendering to the other side; it’s a lot harder to sit down and hammer out policy.  No one ever said democracy was easy.

Move Over Al: Ronald Reagan and Climate Change

David Jenkins from Republicans for Environmental Protection, has written a through article on Ronald Reagan’s record on the environment, especially his work on the ozone.  While conservatives like Rush as well as the Left don’t picture the nation’s 40th president as an environmentalist, Jenkins shows that one can be conservative and a conservationist.

You might also take a look at a new companion website that REP has designed called ClimateConservative aimed at providing tools for conservatives who don’t think climate change is a liberal hoax.

Obama on the Environment: A Republican View

David Jenkins, the political affairs director for Republicans for Environmental Protection looks at the President’s environmental record so far.  He praises the president for some ideas, but also shares his disappointments.  Here’s the good:

To Obama’s credit, his administration has taken some important steps to address the nation’s energy and climate challenges.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment in this regard is the deal he struck with automakers to raise automobile fuel efficiency standards to an industry average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

The deal marked the most significant government action to improve automobile fuel efficiency since 1975, when President Ford signed legislation establishing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo.

Using unprecedented government leverage created by bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler, the subsequent bankruptcy and government buyout of General Motors, and the threat of states setting their own standards, Obama ended decades of auto industry resistance to stronger fuel efficiency requirements.

While the deal irked some of the libertarian-minded hosts that populate talk radio, conservative FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly praised the action. Improving the gas mileage of automobiles and light trucks enjoys overwhelming public support as Americans are justifiably concerned about their overdependence on foreign oil. They understand that better fuel efficiency means less money spent at the gas station and fewer dollars lining the coffers of rogue regimes and the terrorist malefactors they support.

Obama’s deal will not only improve the environment, it will strengthen America’s energy security and reduce the flow of U.S. dollars to the Middle East. It will also make U.S.-based automakers more competitive regardless of gas prices.

And the not so good:

While most major environmental groups have not acknowledged President Obama’s missteps on climate and are inclined to grant him the benefit of the doubt on most matters, he is taking heat from regional and issue-specific organizations on a variety of subjects.

One such issue is mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. During the presidential campaign Senator McCain pledged to end the destructive and unnecessary practice of blowing off the tops of mountains to access coal seams. Obama did not quite match McCain’s pledge, but implied that he would like to see the practice end.

Advocates opposed to the practice were disappointed last June when instead of ending the practice, the Obama administration announced a new interagency plan to regulate MTR coal mining. Since then, the random granting or rejecting of MTR mining permits has left people on both sides of the issue perplexed.

It’s well worth the read.

The Problem with Global Warming

Imagine this.  Scientists announce that there is a large space rock hurtling toward Earth.  It is of such massive size and on such a certain course, that if we do nothing it will render the planet uninhabitable.  The only method for diverting it will cost so much that governments across the globe will have to collaborate aggressively in the funding and development of Earth’s protection; sacrificing a portion of both their wealth and their even more precious sovereignty toward a solution. Continue reading

The Greening of the GOP

Sierra Magazine, the magazine of the Sierra Club, interviewed David Jenkins, the Political Affairs director for Republicans For Environmental Protection. It’s a short read, but ends with a kicker:

Although only 8 of 178 House Republicans (4 percent) voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June, an August Zogby poll found that 45 percent of Republican voters viewed the legislation favorably.

Liveblogging the 2010 State of the Union: The Complete Series

Travis Johnson liveblogged the President’s State of the Union Address earlier this evening. We’ve grouped several of his blog posts into one for people to read.

  • David Gregory just said “Republicans United.” Heh. It’s only modesty that makes me think he’s not talking about us. Modesty and a taste for reality.
  • I don’t care who’s sitting in the Oval Office the moment when the Sergeant at Arms announces the President is a pretty magical moment.
  • Apparently the GOP Caucus has been reminded to be courteous tonight. Odd that that’s necessary.
  • He’s invoking defeats in World War II, the Civil War and people being beaten during the Civil rights movement. Does not bode well…
  • “They’re tired of the partisanship, the shouting and the pettiness.” I wonder if Pelosi wonders if he’s talking about someone else…
  • Standing Ovation count:Â 1Â (Both sides)
  • Coming down on the banks (Stand O count – 3 D only)…He’s justifying the bailout, though and saying he supported the Bush Administration’s move. Nice to see that he he’s not just blaming them…Fee on bailed out banks. I’m not sure why our side is (o Count 4 – D only) is sitting this out. User fees are a good thing…O count 4 – D only
  • Does anyone know where the numbers come from when he says 2 million people have jobs who wouldn’t otherwise have them?…Frustrating to hear him talk about the benefits of the Stimulus Package based on anecdotal data without any reference to empirical data. I want stats.
  • 30 billion dollars for small business loans…Small business tax cuts? Eliminate small business capital gains taxes? Wow. Nice.
  • “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”

    Got both sides on their feet for this. But it’s rhetoric. What does that mean?

    Here it comes..

    1. Financial Reform:Â (1) Ensure consumers are given infore mation to make good choices (2) Regulate reckless behavior
    2. Investment in Research:Â Clean nuclear energy! New drilling (Drill, Barack, drill!) Clean coal…cap and trade.
    3. (Very good point re clean energy: Even if you don’t believe in manmad glocal warming, it’s the way of the future. We should lead the industry)
    4. Double exports over 5 years which will mean 2 million jobs…
      • National Export Initiative – Aggressively seek new markets for our products (prediction:Â liberals will go nuts the first time we sign a deal with a “bad guy”)
    5. Investment in schools that are succeeding, no new funds for schools that fail.
  • Both sides stood up for Health Care Reform…This is something the GOP desperately needs to make clear: we are not against reform. We are against Pelosi/Reid’s Reform!…(Michele Obama just told Congress to sit down.)
  • Called out Republicans to bring forward our own Health Care plan. I say we call his bluff and barnstorm around the country on that plan!
  • John McCain just said it best: “Blaming Bush.”…One year later…that’s just tacky and disingenuous. At what point does he own this?
  • Paying off a trillion dollars:
    • Spending freeze for discretionary spending for three years.
    • Identified 20 billion dollars in cuts from the budget
    • Bipartisan fiscal commission…a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. (why can’t he do that about health care? Answer: Because the unions know what they want)

    Republicans laughed at the spending til next year. An irritated Obama responds “that’s how budgeting works.” Yikes.

    And again he blames Bush. (“The last 8 years got us into this mess.” Uh, you were President for part of that…)

  • He just dissed the Supreme Court! In the State of the Union!

    Joe Wilson just applauded a call for earmark reform. I see you, Joe!! (A proposal to publish all earmark requests drew bipartisan applause.)

  • Best part of this speech:Â a bipartisan scolding for hyperpartisan politics.

    Okay…no. He tells the Democrats to use their majority power to pass their agenda. Then he calls the Republicans out for being “saying no.”  How can he rationalize that kind of cognitive dissonance?

  • I’m happy to see that foreign policy discussions and discussions of our military still gets bipartisan support.

    I’m unhappy to see Members of Congress on their Blackberries in the middle of the SotU. Classless.

  • End to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell by the end of this year. I, for one, thinks it’s about time. We can’t afford to lose anymore resources to a policy much of the military leadership doesn’t stand behind.
  • Now he’s doing what he does. This is where he speaks to the better angels of the political class’s nature and asks for them to follow the example of the American people and move this country forward even in the face of adversity. That was the Obama of 2008…
  • Well, it’s done.

    All in all, I think it was good. He gave Republicans things to support, and some things he knows we can’t or won’t. He called out our Party to step up to the plate and participate in legislation, and called out his own Party for what many liberals are calling cowardice.

    Our response to this can only be to fight back with ideas. Real ideas that address the needs of the American people, but do it in a way that is consistent with our beliefs: small, efficient, non-intrusive government.

Republicans for Environmental Protection Airs Ads Backing Senator Graham

From Republicans for Environmental Protection:

Republicans for Environmental Protection began running television ads on October 30 across South Carolina supporting U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham for his strong leadership on energy and climate change.

The group also plans to air radio ads as well.

The ad may be viewed by clicking here.

“REP applauds Senator Graham for setting a powerful example of conservative leadership,” REP Vice President for Government and Political Affairs David Jenkins said. “True conservatives take seriously the risks facing our country, and they take responsibility by supporting prudent measures to reduce those risks.”

REP believes that constructive Republican engagement will produce a better climate and energy bill than one produced by Democrats alone.

The ad features State Senator John Courson, a Columbia Republican representing Lexington and Richland Counties, who calls oil companies and other special interests on the carpet for their misleading ads attacking Senator Graham.

“We appreciate Senator Courson’s standing up for Senator Graham,” REP President Rob Sisson said. “Both of these outstanding leaders are patriots who have served our country with honor and understand what true conservatism is. They recognize the value of problem-solving over gridlock and of statesmanship over partisanship.”

“Senator Graham deserves enormous credit for stepping forward to solve real problems facing our nation and world. He correctly connects our national security, energy security and economic security with the need to protect our world for future generations,” said REP Vice President for Policy and Communications Jim DiPeso.

“We urge Republicans and Democrats to work together in good faith to frame balanced climate and energy legislation that a broad majority of Americans can support,” DiPeso added.

The ads are airing in the South Carolina media markets of Greenville-Spartanburg, Columbia, Charleston, and Florence-Myrtle Beach, and the Georgia media markets of Savannah and Augusta.

You can view the ad below:

Republicans for Environmental Protection Endorses Christie for NJ Governor

From Republicans for Environmental Protection:

Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), a national grassroots organization with a membership that includes many elected officials, is pleased to endorse Christopher J. Christie for governor of New Jersey.

“Chris Christie is a true environmental champion who is dedicated to fighting pollution and safeguarding New Jersey’s natural treasures,” REP President Rob Sisson said.

“As U.S. attorney for New Jersey, he vigorously prosecuted ocean polluters. As governor, he plans to make New Jersey a magnet for renewable energy manufacturing, bringing jobs and clean energy to the Garden State,” Sisson said.

“REP only endorses strong pro-environment Republicans, and we are very impressed with Chris Christie’s proven commitment to environmental quality and responsible stewardship,” said David Jenkins, REP’s vice president for government and political affairs.

REP also is convinced that a vote for independent candidate Chris Daggett would help the re-election bid of Jon Corzine, who has been woeful in safeguarding the environment. The only way that New Jersey voters can be certain that the environment will have a friend in Trenton is to vote for Chris Christie for governor.

“From Tom Kean Sr. to Christine Todd Whitman to the many GOP environmental champions whom Garden State voters have sent to Congress, New Jersey Republicans have set a high environmental standard. As governor, Chris Christie will follow that great tradition,” Jenkins added.

“New Jersey has been a national leader in protecting open space and outdoor recreational opportunities – the Highlands in the north, the Pinelands in south Jersey, the exceptional wildlife refuges up and down the state, and the incomparable Jersey Shore. As governor, Chris Christie will advance policies and programs that safeguard all these great environmental and economic assets,” Jim DiPeso, REP’s vice president for policy and communications, said.

Republicans for Environmental Protection is dedicated to resurrecting the Republican Party’s great conservation tradition and strengthening its commitment to the responsible stewardship of our environment and natural resources, protecting the achievements of great conservation-minded Republicans such as President Theodore Roosevelt.

“Republicans were responsible for most of this nation’s landmark environmental laws and protecting America’s natural heritage. We are fortunate that we have leaders like Chris Christie to carry on the conservative tradition of conservation today,” Sisson said.