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March 01 2013


Q and A: The Angry Economist

Because of its natural gas boom, the United States is ahead of Europe in fixing climate change, the Oxford economist Dieter Helm argues.

April 23 2012

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March 07 2012


What Makes Gasoline Prices Go Up?

Cognitive dissonance persists on the presidential campaign trail and in Congress, but some energy statistics are telling.

Why Congress Must Extend the PTC for Wind Power

There are dark clouds on the horizon for wind energy of Congress does not renew the PTCThe expiration of the production tax credit (PTC) at the end of this year constitutes a major obstacle for U.S. wind energy. If the PTC is not extended by Congress, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost and economic development would be stymied. As stated in a report from Ernst and Young, “Failure to extend this incentive could stop wind development in its tracks.”

The federal renewable electricity PTC is a per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources and sold by the taxpayer to an unrelated person during the taxable year. Originally enacted in 1992, the PTC has been renewed and expanded numerous times. The federal tax credit gives wind power generators 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of energy produced, but it is slated to expire at the end of 2012 unless lawmakers approve a renewal.

The PTC has fueled the proliferation of wind power installations across the U.S. Since 2005, the PTC has helped to generate 47,000 megawatts of new capacity. A total of 35 percent of the new electrical generation capacity has been developed due to the PTC over the past five years. This activity is worth $60 billion in private investment.

The best wind farms in the world already produce power as economically as coal, gas and nuclear generators. In terms of cost efficiency, rising fuel prices mean that wind power could achieve parity by 2016, but this won’t happen without the PTC.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2012, wind is one of the dominant players behind increasing U.S. renewable energy generation. Wind power now generates 3 percent of America’s electricity. Forecasts predict that wind generation will almost double between 2010 and 2035, but the growth would slow substantially if the PTC were allowed to expire.

“If Congress chooses not to renew, there is no hope for the wind industry next year,” John Graham, a BP executive, said of the tax credit. “Without it, U.S. wind projects aren’t viable.” Failure to extend the PTC would result in the loss of an estimated 40,000 jobs in the wind industry. Members of the industry supply chain are already being affected due to the uncertainty. The current PTC uncertainty has begun to cause layoffs and in the absence of an extension, further job losses and even plant closings will keep accelerating.

Despite economic headwinds, the PTC has helped the US wind market grow stronger.  In 2011 the wind market improved upon the 5 GW posted in 2010. More than 7 GW of wind capacity is expected to be installed in the US in 2012 as developers of wind energy rush to complete projects before the expiration of the PTC at the end of this year. Although the wind market will experience an acceleration of installations, especially during Q1 and Q2 of 2012, if the PTC is not extended, a major stoppage throughout the entire US wind industry can be anticipated in the second half of 2012.

Although bipartisan contingents in both the House and Senate are calling for action, the fight over the extension of the PTC continues on Capitol Hill. U.S. Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and 10 colleagues from both parties wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urging swift action on extension of the wind energy production tax credit (PTC).

In addition to Udall and Moran, the Senate letter was signed by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

As the Senators explain in their letter,

“An extension of the wind production tax credit should provide for some long-term stability while setting forth a path for how the wind industry can move towards a market-based system. While it is clear that the wind industry currently requires tax incentives like the production tax credit to compete, Congress needs to provide the wind industry with the stability and predictability to plan for the future.”

Four U.S. Representatives from the Illinois congressional delegation signed a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate calling for “a short-term Production Tax Credit extension for wind energy at the earliest opportunity in the first quarter of 2012.”

A House bill seeking to extend the PTC has 72 co-sponsors, including 18 Republicans. The bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition, (including 23 Republican and Democratic Governors from across the U.S.), and the Western Governors’ Association also support the extension. This legislation has received the endorsement of a broad coalition of more than 370 members, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Edison Electric Institute. A PTC extension even has the support of the environmentally indifferent U.S. Chamber of Commerce and staunch Republicans like Governors Terry Branstad of Iowa and Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Forbes reports that a total of 15 major companies wrote to Congressional leaders urging extension of the PTC. These companies represent some of America’s biggest brands and largest purchasers of wind energy. The list includes Starbucks, Staples, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co., Campbell Soup Co. and Yahoo!. As stated in the letter, “The PTC has enabled the wind industry to slash wind energy costs – 90 percent since 1980 – a big reason why companies like ours are buying increasing amounts of wind energy.” Wind energy is increasingly attractive because it helps companies to manage costs and reduce their emissions profile while being less reliant on the price and supply volatility of foreign oil. Unlike fossil fuels, wind can offer 20-30 year fixed prices.

Opposition comes from conservatives who oppose all federal investments in energy production including members of Congress who are affiliated with the Tea Party.

In another Forbes article, Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Power Association wrote that wind energy is “one of the fastest growing new sources of US manufacturing jobs,” she said, “the PTC has driven tremendous growth in wind’s manufacturing sector.”  The U.S. now has over 400 manufacturing facilities in 43 states involved in wind turbine manufacturing. That represents a 12-fold increase in domestic manufacturing over the last six years.

According to Bode, American wind power accounts for 75,000 American jobs, and can grow to almost 100,000 jobs four years from now. According to a Bush Administration study, wind can support 500,000 American jobs in less than 20 years. But these jobs won’t materialize in the absence of the PTC.

Bode quotes economic studies, which have demonstrated that Congressional inaction on the PTC will eliminate 37,000 American jobs, close plants and forego billions of dollars in private investment.

“Wind energy is an American success story and the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind is driving this success. But we need Congress to extend the PTC and keep taxes stable and low on wind in order to keep this success story going,” Bode said.

The PTC enables wind energy to compete with the heavily subsidized fossil fuel industry. Failure to extend the PTC will cripple wind power’s competitiveness which will undermine the economy and kill one of the greatest job creation engines in the United States.

March 01 2012


Survey Shows More Americans Believe Climate Change is Happening

American belief in global warming is now on the riseThe number of Americans who believe global warming is happening is on the rise, according to a Brookings Institution report on the latest National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change (NSAPOCC) survey conducted in December of 2011.

The report shows much of that new-found belief comes from direct experience with independent studies showing that four out of five Americans have been directly impacted by climate change. 2011 was a “year for the record books” bringing record drought and heat waves, hurricanes, floods, winter storms and wildfires. In all, there were 14  record climate and weather-related events in 2011, each causing at least $1 billion in damage. Hurricane Irene alone caused more than $7 billion in damages.

“Many of our respondents pointed to their own experience with hotter temperatures, storms or droughts,” says senior Brookings fellow Barry Rabe. “In increasing numbers, Americans are making the connection between weather and their belief about global warming.”

Belief driven by local conditions can be fickle, but the study also cites reports of declining Arctic sea ice and melting ice sheets as driving public concern about changing climate.


More American now believe global warming is happening

According to the latest NSAPOCC survey, 62 percent of Americans believe that global warming is real, more than at any time since 2009 when 65 percent held that belief. Public perception has changed significantly since the 2010 survey, when only 58 percent felt the evidence for global warming was compelling.

Of course, for some, there is little that will sway their disbelief that global warming is occurring. Though the number of people denying climate change has dropped to 26 percent, those who are left are dug in, and mostly Republican. Only 47 percent of Republicans believe there is evidence of global warming, as opposed to nearly 80 percent for Democrats.

Rabe said those who believe there is no evidence of climate change, though fewer in numbers, are highly certain in that belief. ”On either side of the issue, both for and against, people tend to give a generally solid level of confidence,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t movers or people who can’t be changed,” Rabe added.

Instead of approaching climate change as a “third rail” issue never to be touched except in its denial, some conservatives still call for a more sensible approach. Last year former Republican congressman Bob Ingles pleaded for his conservative colleagues to “return to true conservatism” in dealing with global warming.

Belief in global warming split along political party lines

Whatever people choose to believe, and for whatever reason, extreme weather and climate events pay little heed. A swath of destructive, late-winter tornadoes tore through the U.S. midwest yesterday, killing at least 12 and  injuring hundreds more, bringing back uncomfortable memories of last year’s record-breaking tornado season.

Extreme weather events like those scene across the country last year and in the midwest yesterday, are quickly becoming part of the “new normal” all Americans can expect to experience more often in a warming world.

Download the full report from the Brookings Institution

February 15 2012


January 27 2012


January 25 2012


President Obama Reaffirms his Commitment to Clean Energy in his State of the Union Address

Obama pushes an agenda of clean energy at his State of the Union AddressPresident Obama showed courageous leadership by supporting clean energy in his state of the union address.  Prior to the President’s state of the union address, a Think Progress Green article encouraged the President to stir ”this country to action on the existential threat of climate change.”  Mr. Obama may have only mentioned climate change once, but his unqualified support for clean energy was consistent with the kind of mobilization required to protect “our homeland from a poisoned climate.”

The President’s desire to expand exploitation of offshore oil reserves and natural gas from shale may be disappointing but it is entirely understandable in the current political climate.

While it is easy to blame Obama for not being strong enough on efforts to combat climate change, the blame actually lies with Republicans. The fossil fuel powered Republican denial machine has done a great job of misinforming the American electorate, making it impossible to address the topic, let alone fight for legislation. The President acknowledged the impossibility of passing climate legislation when he said,

“The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change. But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation.”

Riley E. Dunlap, a sociology professor at Oklahoma State, and Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State have written a chapter for the new Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, called, “Organized Climate Change Denial.”  In their chapter of the book, they say:

“It is reasonable to conclude that climate change denial campaigns in the U.S. have played a crucial role in blocking domestic legislation and contributing to the U.S. becoming an impediment to international policy-making…We have argued that because of the perceived threat posed by climate change to their interests, actors in the denial machine have strived to undermine scientific evidence documenting its reality and seriousness.  Over the past two decades they have engaged in an escalating assault on climate science and scientists, and in recent years on core scientific practices, institutions and knowledge.  Their success in these efforts not only threatens our capacity to understand and monitor human-induced ecological disruptions from the local to global levels (Hanson 2010), but it also weakens an essential component of societal reflexivity when the need for the latter is greater than ever.”

The scientific basis for climate change has been around for decades and yet as economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton explains, “The desire to disbelieve deepens as the scale of the threat grows.”

It would appear climate denial is a defining feature of the GOP. This is a point made convincingly in an Oct 10, 2010 Climate Progress article by Joe Romm.  “Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here.”

Even denialists, like Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post‘s Editorial Page Editor, have published op-ed pieces accusing the GOP of being “lost in never-never land,” on climate change.

In light of Republican denialist propaganda, President Obama’s speech is truly remarkable. He repeatedly stated his support for clean energy technology. One of his most powerful arguments concerned the effectiveness of public-private collaborations.

“In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled. And thousands of Americans have jobs because of it”.

He also unapologetically addressed his critics when he talked about government support for clean technologies and America’s international competitiveness. It was as though he was referring directly to the failed solar company Solyndra, when the President said,

“Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.”

He went on to tackle the complex issue of subsidies, asking Congress to remove oil subsidies and replace them with subsidies for clean energy.

“We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs. We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives.”

Dealing squarely with Republican obstructionism the President said,

“So far, you haven’t acted. Well tonight, I will. I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”

The President also dealt with the issue of energy efficiency, talking specifically about an energy grid that “wastes too much energy,” and encouraging greener building for businesses.

“Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So here’s another proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings. Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, and more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs.”

The President concluded by indicating that he is committed to reducing mercury pollution and making sure that “our food is safe and water is clean.” He also stated that he wants to hold the oil companies accountable.

“I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago.”

What makes the 2012 speech so noteworthy is the fact that the President mentioned “clean energy” eight times.  Over the course of the last few years the tone of the state of the union address has changed dramatically. In 2009, the President spoke forcefully about the need to address climate change, then he softened his approach in 2010 and in 2011, he fell silent on the issue.

Despite opposition from the GOP, President Obama appears to be determined to fight for clean energy in the forthcoming federal election.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

January 24 2012


Wasting the Wastewater

The reuse of municipal wastewater will be important to meeting future demand for freshwater in the United States, a new report from the National Academy of Sciences says.

January 13 2012


Toward a National Coastline Policy

The White House will work with the states and various groups to develop plans for the "sustainable use and long-term protection" of oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes.

December 14 2011


U.S. Envoy Relieved by Climate Talks' Outcome

"It would be an overstatement to say it went smoothly, but in the end it went," the top United States climate envoy says of the talks in Durban, South Africa.

December 09 2011


On Our Radar: A European Warning to Big Emitters

A proposal supported by the European Union at climate talks would give participating countries five months to convert pledges made last year into a legally binding target to be formally adopted in 2012.

December 06 2011


The U.S. is Hamstrung on Climate Change says UNFCCC Chief From COP17 on U.S.

UNFCCC Chairperson Christiana Figueres gave a brief comment to ClimateProgress at COP17 on the negotiating position of the US at the climate conference now at its midway point in Durban, South Africa. Figueres characterized the US as “hamstrung” on its inaction on climate change, saying that awareness needs to be raised in American civil society. Climate action is more than a “historic responsibility”, Figueres said, but also a growing and real part of daily life in America that will significant impact on the health and well-being of all Americans in the coming decades.

September 15 2011


Ruling May Jeopardize 'Safe Dolphin' Label

Although the full implications are unclear, the World Trade Organization has decided that American trade rules on tuna are overly restrictive.

September 07 2011


U.S. and Europeans Unite Against Illegal Fishing

The Obama administration puts the global cost of illegal fishing to legal fishermen and coastal communities at up to $23 billion of seafood and seafood products annually.

July 29 2011


Pay No Attention to the Heat Wave Behind the Curtain

Musings of a Malcontent: Naysaying the Naysayers“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

Is it me or is it hot out there?


No place seems safe, especially in the US. Record temps and warnings all these last two weeks in case you haven’t noticed – for those of you living in caves or on a rapidly melting ice cap.

The scope of the recent heat wave was impressive, stretching over almost every state. So far 1,966 high temperature records have been tied or broken and 4,376 highest minimum temperature records were broken. Who cares if it reached 110 degrees when the low was 90? Soon there will be no low – just a constant roiling boil in which lizards rule the earth.

And they said Jurassic Park could never happen.

The basic word on the street – the scientific one anyway – is that this is likely going to be the norm. Frequent heat waves with high highs and high lows. I’m sure the mass turning up of air conditioning units will have no effect on all of this.

Right?Talk about ironic. The main methods we utilize for staying cool actually contribute to the problem. Excellent. I did read that the case for nuclear power is being pushed in the face of this new heat wave. We are funny – humans that is. Rather than change the habits causing all the problems in the first place, we choose to prolong the situation – with nuclear! Are we so far in that we do not see the madness of such a thing? In one article from CBS news the CEO of Westinghouse says that the new nuclear plants are twice as safe as required by law.

Only twice as safe?

I might feel ok about this if the other part of the statement was not “as required by law”. Remember this is the government that brought you FEMA – for starters – who thought it was fine to re-use the toxic Katrina trailers a couple months ago. I can only imagine what bare minimums are set for energy companies to make twice as safe.

  1. All operating plants must promise not to kill everybody – or at least try really hard.
  2. All plants must promise to not melt down too much – just a little – and if they do they must feel very bad about it.
  3. Plants must have pretty colors and catchy names.

Of course the paranoid aspect of my mind is trying to convince me that in fact it is the nuclear and coal industries purposefully causing these heat waves – with some big heat ray hidden on some conspiracy laden satellite circling above us. In an act of desperation for our air conditioners and mini fridges we will beg them to keep it all going. We will plead for them to rescue us – and they will – for the cost of everything I am afraid. Because even as the Midwest turns to a big desert and Salt Lake City becomes ocean front property – still we will not change.

I sigh and shake my head – because it is true.

Trust me – I have just spent the last three days at Disneyland – it is definitely true.

With all the crazy weather this year I have been hoping that the naysayers might finally acknowledge there is a problem going on. I mean does lava have to be flowing down the street before they say there is a problem? Probably. I am sure they will blame this most recent heat wave on solar flares or Satan or liberals. Or puppies.

I always knew puppy gas would get us in the end.

By the way, what is the benefit of being a naysayer? What actually does it get them? I have been writing this little entry now for a few weeks and this basic question keeps itching at the back of my brain. As you know these guys are aggressive when it comes to persuading everyone that the lava is in fact not running down the street. There are whole misinformation websites focused on confusing the issue just so that we just back off. There are literally sites posting false information on purpose – on purpose!

Again – why would they do that?

If it all crashes will it not crash on them too? This is the moment when I realize that all us simple folk are basically going to be on the short end of a very big stick – a stick that will be used to hit us over the head when the time comes by those with all the money and the connections. Get one of those Golden Tickets now because you will be left off the boat – so to speak.

The one thing that I guess I still trust in my heart is that if we can pull back the curtain enough times and show that the Great and Powerful Oz is really some corporate lackey – or lobbyist – then people will begin to wake up. Of course lava flowing down the street would also work, just not in time to make a bit of difference. Meanwhile I am going to retreat into my ice cave – made by special generators that only run on the burning of virgin rainforest – and eat some shark fin soup.

After all, I want to do my part.

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May 04 2011


EarthTalk: The Future of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powered Cars

When will you be able to drive this hydrogen fuel cell powered car?EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Not long ago we were reading a lot about hydrogen’s role in a clean energy future, with cars transitioning from gasoline-powered engines to hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Where does hydrogen fit now in the mix with electric cars now coming on so strong? – Amanda Jenkins, Troy, MI

It is true that just a few years ago everyone was talking hydrogen fuel cells as the future of petroleum-free automotive transport. Fuel cell cars can run on infinitely renewable hydrogen gas and emit no harmful tailpipe emissions whatsoever. A 2005 Scientific American article bullishly reported that car company executives “foresee no better option to the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle in the long run.” Likewise, the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggested, also in 2005, that some 30 percent of the global stock of vehicles—700 million cars and trucks—could be powered by hydrogen fuel cells by 2050.

But high development costs and implementation hurdles have kept fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) out of the mainstream for now. And in the face of competition from a new crop of all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles lately, some analysts wonder whether the fuel cell’s future is as bright as once thought.

That’s not to say the technology isn’t impressive, and still potentially very promising. The concept was first developed by NASA some five decades ago for use in space travel and has since been implemented in a wide range of other mobile and stationary power applications. In an FCV, a stack of fuel cells under the hood converts hydrogen stored on-board with oxygen in the air to make electricity that propels the drive train. While automakers have been able to make fuel cells small enough to fit in and power a conventional size car or truck, the price per unit is high due to the need to incorporate expensive, cutting edge components. And the lack of widespread demand precludes cost-saving mass production. Also, the lack of hydrogen refueling stations around the country limits the practicality of driving a fuel cell vehicle.

According to Richard Gilbert, co-author of the book, Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight without Oil, another big issue for hydrogen-powered fuel cells is their energy inefficiency. Creating hydrogen gas by splitting water molecules via electrolysis ends up using up about half of the energy it creates. Another half of the resulting energy is taken up by the conversion of hydrogen back into electricity within fuel cells. “This means that only a quarter of the initially available energy reaches the electric motor,” reports Gilbert. (Making hydrogen by reforming natural gas is also highly inefficient and relies on a fossil fuel from the get-go.) Such losses in conversion don’t stack up well against, for instance, recharging an electric vehicle (EV) like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt from a wall socket—especially if the electricity can be initially generated from a renewable source like wind or solar.

But FCVs aren’t dead in the water yet. A few dozen Californians are already driving one of Honda’s FCX Clarity fuel cell cars. A $600/month lease payment entitles qualifying drivers to not only collision coverage, maintenance and roadside assistance but also hydrogen fuel, available via a handful of “fast-fill” hydrogen refueling stations. General Motors is part of an effort to test FCVs and implement a viable hydrogen refueling infrastructure in Hawaii, currently one of the most fossil fuel dependent states in the U.S. The Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative aims to bring upwards of 20 hydrogen refueling stations to Hawaii by 2015. Other efforts are underway in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Honda FCX Clarity, .


Send Your Environmental Questions To: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk [at] emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

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April 28 2011


U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projected to Grow Slowly

In a startling contrast to its projections of five years ago, the Energy Department's research branch predicts that energy-related emissions will not rise to what they were in 2005 until 2027.

March 29 2011


Clean Energy Investment Is Up, but U.S. Lags

A new report from the Pew Environment Group on clean energy investment among the world's leading economies finds that the United States has slipped to third place, behind China and Germany.
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