Archive for January, 2009

“Embedded in America’s soil, wind, and sun, we have the capacity to change. … It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence of foreign oil while creating a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs.” - President Obama, Jan. 26, 2009

President Obama kicked off his administration’s energy push this week with a directive asking the EPA to allow states to regulate auto emissions on their own. Under the Bush administration, the EPA had rejected states’ rights in this regard. The move pushed by Obama would force automakers to meet higher fuel-efficiency standards in 14 states. Since they’re not going to create different cars just for the 14 states, it has the effect of being a national policy since cars will have to meet these standards.

With that stage set, we look at the second member of President Obama’s Large Trio on energy – and she just happens to be the head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson. Last week we looked at Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu and next week we will look at Carol Browner, presidential adviser on energy and climate change.

Jackson’s resume includes 16 years at the EPA, before later becoming head of New Jersey’s environmental agency, the DEP. She has received a far more mixed reception from the public than the choice of Chu has. The Huffington Post’s blog on the matter sums up the anti-Jackson side. It stems from a bad review from one environmental group (PEER) that said she suppressed some scientific evidence, leaned pro-business at times and made little headway on Superfund sites. I agree that the Superfund cleanup failed to progress much during Jackson’s tenure, but I believe it’s part of a nationwide sluggishness in the Superfund cleanup. While a case can be made that Jackson could have done more, others have faced the same issues and come up with the same results. As for suppressing scientific evidence, that is not a good thing if true.

Jackson’s supporters describe her as pragmatic and someone willing to work with both sides on an issue. They also point to Jackson’s ability to achieve stricter standards for greenhouse gas emissions as well as her record of tripling goals for wind power. She has a strong track record with alternative energy options.

During her confirmation hearings, Jackson told Congress:

“Science must be the backbone of what EPA does. The environmental and public-health laws Congress has enacted direct the EPA administrator to base decisions on the best available science. EPA’s addressing of scientific decisions should reflect the expert judgment of the Agency’s career scientists and independent advisors.”

The choice of a pragmatic dealmaker runs in sharp contrast to the idealism that Dr. Chu embodies at the Energy Department. The first task the politically savvy Jackson has is to decide whether the EPA will follow Obama’s directive. It is an issue that will circumvent Congress and any national bill, as discussed above.

It is almost a slam dunk that she will follow Obama’s wishes and that automakers will have to ramp up fuel efficiency standards. The question becomes how often she will miss and how often she will make later shots. Just remember, nobody hits ‘em all.

For those who don’t like waiting to the weekend for environmental news stories, here are a few interesting ones that I saw today.

This New York Times Q&A looks at how CFLs are falling short of their potential.  Also, geographic differences are hindering Democrats from being united on environmental policies.

Meanwhile, this LA Times article talks about factors that are endangering the Clean Trucks Program at the Port of Los Angeles.

This Washington Post article talks about the possible long-term consequences of rising greenhouse gas levels.

Screensavers don’t save electricity. Set your computer to go into sleep mode instead.

On Jan. 8, Lights Out, Green In trekked to RIIPL’s environmental conference. With an eager audience ready to hear our message of conservation, we were well received. With that also came some articles with mentions of Lights Out, Green In.

EvanEco wrote on the experience in its blog

Also, host LaSalle Academy did a profile on the origins of our organization

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration will fast track California’s (and other states’) quest to enact tougher vehicle emissions standards.  Also, it has news of a study analyzing the causes of the cloud that hangs over South Asia.  And check out this story about the greening of Wal-Mart, and this one about how environmental issues are sliding to the backburner of the public consciousness.

The LA Times has news of a study that says trees in the West are dying faster as temperatures rise.  The Times also says that the down economy is resulting in less garbage, but also less recycling.

A UC Berkeley study finds that, while summer temperatures are rising, winter temperatures are rising even faster (San Francisco Chronicle).  Also, from two weeks ago, the Chronicle had this list of 25 tips for green living.

This Washington Post article talks about the increase in energy efficiency campaigns.  This Post article says that global warming is forcing a paradigm shift in conservation principles.  The paper also reports that new homes are paying more attention to energy efficiency.

This Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial warns against losing sight of water conservation.

“Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries
and threaten our planet.”          - President Obama, Jan. 20, 2009

So in watching Tuesday’s inauguration, I thought I’d delve deeper into something President Obama focused on for part of his speech: energy policy for the next four years. We’re unable to favor any specific policy or position-holders (Vice President of the Board Mary Welsh will have a coronary if we do since we’d jeopardize our pending nonprofit status). But we can break down the strengths and weaknesses of the Large Trio (Big 3 has really been overused at this point, so here’s a new corny nickname) in Obama’s administration. The Large Trio are: Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy; Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator; Carol Browner, Presidential adviser on energy and climate change.

I see the major issues that the Obama administration needs to address on energy as: coming up with a long-term alternative energy solution here in the U.S. that is climate friendly and available for mass production; reducing energy use; crafting a treaty for the end of this year that will replace the Kyoto treaty (basically we need to convince China and India to become more aware of greenhouse gas emissions and agree to pollution regulations.)

This post was initially as long as William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address back in 1840, so in order to avoid fatalities this time around, I’ll look at Chu today, Jackson next Wednesday and Browner the following Wednesday (Feb. 4)

Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy: Already approved by Congress, he’s the science guy and the man that gives most people the hope that the Obama administration is serious on energy action and will be thinking outside the box for energy solutions. Chu, 60, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997 and later led Cal-Berkeley’s research into climate change. Chu’s bio says he has strong roots in the private sector and might be able to gain private sector approval easily (which would then call off some of their lobbyists). I would classify his weakness as never having led a huge department such as the Department of Energy and that he has little political experience. But I believe his job has been framed as more of an idea/research position and that others on Obama’s team will provide the political muscle needed to get any international treaty approved at home. Chu will give the U.S. immediate authority abroad and will likely be a main voice during the crafting of a new international climate treaty later this year.

I located a document from the InterAcademy Council, for which Chu co-chaired a council. The document brings up a few key issues:

Change will not come overnight. Essential elements of the energy infrastructure have expected life of the order of one to several decades. That means the energy landscape of 2025 may not look that different from the energy landscape of today. Nevertheless, it will be necessary within the next decade to initiate a transition such that by 2020 new policies are in place, consumer habits are changing, and new technologies are gaining substantial market share.

To succeed, the quest for sustainable energy systems cannot be limited to finding petroleum alternatives for the transport sector and low-carbon means of generating electricity—it must also include a set of responsible and responsive demand-side solutions. Those solutions must address opportunities at the city level (with special focus on the use of energy and water), new energy-industrial models (incorporating modern understanding of industrial ecology), and advanced mobility systems. In addition, it will be necessary to focus on opportunities at the point of end-use (cars, appliances, buildings, etc.) to implement the widest range of energy-saving options available. Most of the institutions that frame energy policy today have a strong supply-side focus.

So he knows that immediate action will be tough and has a more pragmatic approach, which will be needed for our international dealings. On the other end, he’s focused on the demand-side (think, turning off your lights from 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. and just using less) of things as well as supply-side (think, wind farms or oil drilling). I agree with the point on the demand-side and frankly that’s WHY THIS ORGANIZATION EXISTS. So needless to say, I like what he’s thinking.

Chu has been approved, so it’s on to work for him. And next week it’s on to Lisa Jackson for us.

You can lower heating costs by up to 50 percent by installing radiant floor heating.

The New York Times reports that Cape Wind cleared a regulatory hurdle last week, but still faces strong headwinds from a number of opponents.  Meanwhile, the paper also has news of layoffs in the wind industry, due in part to an inability to get capital to finance projects.  And also, yet another study about rising sea levels.

Obama’s pick to head the EPA say that science must be the backbone of the agency (Washington Post).

Oil and gas leases in Utah that were auctioned last month have been temporarily blocked (Salt Lake Tribune).  The LA Times has an article about the college student who tried to subvert the auction.

This LA Times article offers advice for lowering your energy bill, while this one says that major investments in green infrastructure could take some time.

In another midnight move, the Interior Department has proposed drilling for oil in areas off of California’s coast (San Francisco Chronicle).  The Chronicle also reports that the state’s budget crisis has halted thousands of conservation projects.  On a different note, the Chronicle reports that the Senate this week voted to protect 2 million acres of wilderness lands nationwide.

I just wanted to share with everyone some experiences from last week’s R.I. Interfaith Power and Light’s green conference.

-There were about 15-20 exhibit tables, with groups ranging from National Grid to the Audubon Society. National Grid gave out CFLs and home weather-stripping kits, which many people were happy to receive and other groups, including us, gave out brochures.

- Aside from giving out our brochures (printed on recycled paper), Mary Welsh and I talked to a number of people who were enthused about taking the pledge to turn off their lights from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Many said they hardly use lights during the day as it is. We scored a number of pledges as well as a few other groups to follow-up with so we can spread our message.

- To a certain extent, we were preaching to the religious and environmental choir. We didn’t need to convince anyone of global warming. Most of those in attendance were interested in helping the environment and the conference touched on those themes. During the keynote address, the Rev. Sally Bingham talked about how religious leaders could help the environment by energizing their congregation and connecting all the reverence for God’s creation with a duty to stop global warming. Overall, using the pulpit on Saturday or Sunday to energize the masses (unavoidable pun) to make changes to the environment is a very good idea. It is perhaps one of our best chances to reach the most people on making serious changes to stop global warming.

- During the Rev. Bingham’s speech, I was thinking about something that goes beyond the environment as well. With the conference being inclusive to all religions (Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, etc) I was reminded of how the basic principles of these religions all hold God’s creation in high regard and that perhaps fighting together to help the environment could help soothe some religious tensions that have flared in the world during this last century of intense globalization. It’s optimistic and naive to think it would have much effect on a larger basis, but we can hope there might be few cases. As the Middle East is torn apart through war and fear runs deep throughout the globe, it’d be a shame to halt global warming only to have political, economic and religious differences tear the world to pieces.

Putting electronic appliances on a power strip and then turning them off when not in use can save energy.