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Jul 182013
 

From Green Right Now Reports

smokestack pollution promoA poll of Americans reveals that a majority support President Obama’s plan to attack climate change by cracking down on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Americans also support the other aspects of Obama’s climate action plan, which he outlined in a major address on June 25, according to the poll, conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that:

  •   79 support increasing fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles.
  •  78 percent support increasing investment in renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power.
  •  78 percent support stronger energy efficiency standards for appliances and new buildings.
  • 76 percent support the United States taking a lead role in encouraging countries such as China and India to expand their efforts to curb carbon pollution.
  •  75 percent support strengthening communities against the effects of climate change, such as creating new flood reduction plans for areas hit by Hurricane Sandy, and drought and wildfire preparation plans for the Midwest and West.

Democrats and Independents most strongly favored of curbing carbon emissions from the America’s 1,500 power plants, which are the nation’s single biggest contributor to planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

But even about half (49 percent) of Republicans, whose party has blocked climate laws in Congress, said they endorse limits on carbon pollution from power plants. All told, the poll suggested that 65 percent of Americans favor cutting this type of pollution, which has never been regulated, though mercury and arsenic emissions from power plants are controlled.

Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, transportation and other sources has been blamed for triggering worldwide climate change, which is melting glaciers, raising sea levels, spreading drought and triggering more powerful hurricanes.

The poll by Hart Research Associates found that overall 61 percent of Americans back the full Obama climate action plan unveiled last month.

Support crossed generational and regional boundaries, said Jay Campbell, senior vice president at Hart Research Associates.

“Simply put, Americans want to see something done to counteract climate change, and they say setting limits on power plant emissions is an important step,” he said.

Hart Research, which often works with Democrats, conducted the poll for NRDC jointly with Chesapeake Beach Consulting, a firm that often works with Republicans.

“The public wants Washington to address the issue of climate change, including Republicans who indicate strong support for each of the individual components of the plan. Not taking action is not an option the public will accept,” said Chesapeake’s President Robert Carpenter.

Pollsters read arguments for and against controlling power plant emissions to those being surveyed before asking their position. The arguments read were:

  • “SUPPORTERS of this plan say that cutting carbon pollution is essential to keeping our air and water clean, protecting our kids’ health, and reducing the devastating effects of climate change. President Obama’s plan represents a reasonable and comprehensive approach that will help our economy to continue to grow and recover while sparking innovation in energy technology and cutting our dependence on foreign oil.
  • “OPPONENTS of this plan say it will seriously harm our economy just as it is starting to improve. This plan will mean higher energy costs, making it more expensive for companies to do business and leading to thousands of job losses and higher prices for consumers. All this without having any real impact on climate change, because big polluters such as India and China do not limit pollution from their power companies.”

Afterward, the majority (59 percent) still said they supported the president’s climate plan; 32 percent said they oppose it.


Jan 102012
 

(As transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Roland Hwang advocates for cleaner, more efficient transportation. Below is his speech to the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit on Jan. 10, 2012.)

Roland Hwang NRDC

I am pleased to be here today on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council. A few years ago, I felt something like Daniel in the lion’s den addressing this audience. But the truth is there has been amazing progress in the last few years … a real coming together of the minds. No longer is there a huge gulf everywhere between environmentalists and the auto industry.

While it is true that some elements of the industry have been slow to warm up to outside perspectives … others have been very receptive. For my part, I have tried to be a better listener and to find common ground where possible. It seems to me there is just  too much at stake here for everyone involved … the auto industry … car consumers … and, in fact, Americans in general. We have to continue to find ways to work together … and I am committed to doing so.

Today, I am going to address one of those topics where more and more people are finding a way to agree – and not just reflexively oppose everything the other side has to say.

Imagine if our nation was offered a choice of how to spend half a trillion dollars of our wealth over the next two decades.

One option would be to send $350 billion overseas to the Middle East and other oil exporting countries, and the remainder on increasing oil industry revenues.

An alternative option would be to take that half a trillion dollars and invest $300 billion directly into the U.S. auto industry, put $200 billion back into consumers’ pockets, and create half a million new jobs while cutting emissions of dangerous carbon pollution.

Is this choice just a pipe dream? Is it too simplistic a way to look at things?

Hardly.

In fact, what I just outlined is the promise, broadly speaking, of the historic new clean car agreement between the Obama Administration, California and major carmakers. They joined together last summer in a grand bargain to deliver cars that get, on average, the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by the model year 2025, roughly double the average for cars on the road today.

GM's Cruze Eco offers 42 mpg on the highway, mileage that beats competitors.

The additional technology to meet this target will result in $300 billion in greater revenues for the U.S. auto industry and ensure it will be a global leader in advanced vehicle innovation.

Stopping $350 billion from being sent overseas will strengthen our economy, make us less vulnerable to oil price shocks, and create hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

And curbing emissions of carbon pollution will help protect our economy against the costly impacts of global climate change, such as extreme weather events, like hurricanes, heat waves, and flooding.

Fortunately for the auto industry, it doesn’t have to wait til 2025 to see the benefits of stronger standards.

In a world of unpredictable fuel prices, it is the predictability of stronger fuel-efficiency standards that has allowed the auto industry to assert control over its own destiny.

Thanks to the 2009 agreement to raise standards to 35.5 mpg by 2016, the industry is much better prepared, more resilient and – indeed – thriving in the face of this past year’s record high gasoline expenditures. Sales, profits and fuel efficiency are all on the rise. And unlike with every past oil shock, GM and Ford actually have gained market share this time around.

54.5 mpg will spark even greater spark innovation that will ensure the rebirth of the U.S. auto industry.

But I want to be clear that … as you know … these innovations are not going to rely on some imaginary “black box” technology.

This is very much existing know-how … the science of what already exists … as opposed to “science fiction.”

Now … I know it’s unrealistic to assume that overnight every American is going to be driving home from work and plugging in their car to charge up … just like they do their cell phones.

Electric drivetrains are certainly the future of the car. But to meet 54.5 mpg, over 80 percent of the vehicles will be still be powered by conventional–albeit highly sophisticated–gasoline engines.

The good news is that’s where there is tremendous opportunity for some of the most consequential technology to come into play.

Adding a simple turbocharger, direct injection to engines and cutting cylinders can deliver the same power and dependable performance while burning less gas. Automatic and dual clutch, automated 8-speed transmissions shift faster and allow the engine to run at its sweet spot longer. High

Ford's popular F-150 truck now offers an EcoBoost engine that increases mileage.

strength, advanced materials ensure cars will be safe and efficient.

These innovations are already moving from limited applications in a handful of models … to widespread use on assembly lines in every auto factory.

Ford’s version of the downsized gasoline direct injection turbocharged engine, called the Ecoboost, now accounts for 4 of every 10 F-150s. After just being introduced last February, it recently passed the 100,000 sales mark.

So, what’s the catch?

Well, as usual, ideologues in the media and in Washington D.C., who are more interested in thwarting anything that even remotely seems “green” than doing what is best for our nation, have joined forces with auto dealers to try to preserve the status quo. Through costly investigations and wasteful legislation aimed at blocking the new standards from being implemented, they’re doing all they can to scuttle this historic accord, bury the benefits it would provide, and return us to political gridlock on clean cars.

As they have in years past, those who oppose needed progress have dusted off tired arguments aimed at convincing us all that somehow Americans don’t like the idea of saving money and driving better cars.

Fortunately, consumers are way ahead of the game.

They’re voting with their wallets and marching in droves to snap up a new generation of fuel-efficient cars as fast as Detroit and other automakers can make them.

Where once SUVs and V-8s ruled the road, now one out of every two vehicles sold is a small car, small crossover, or mid-size car. Thrifty 4-cylinders are now America’s most popular engine choice.

According to Truecar.com, when compared to the same month the previous year, average fuel efficiency of new vehicles has increased for the last 15 straight months.

New vehicle fuel efficiency is – by far – the single most important consideration to Americans buying a new car, with 45 percent of consumers calling it the number-one factor in their decision, according to a national survey Ford Motor Co. commissioned last fall.

54.5 mpg will be a boon for consumers by expanding the number of fuel efficient offerings. Already, thanks to the 2009 clean car agreement, nearly 4o models offered for sale today can essentially meet the proposed 2017 fleet average standard of 36.6 mpg. these models range from compact cars to pickup trucks, including the Buick Lacrosse, Ford Focus and Honda Odyssey.

Consumers expecting to pay more for a car that meets 54.5 mpg may be surprised. Over the life of the vehicle, they will save thousands of dollars. But perhaps more importantly, households balancing monthly bills will see immediate savings since their monthly fuel savings will outweigh their increased monthly auto payments.

So my message today is simple: Let’s work together.

The latest clean car agreement offers our country another choice … a choice between gridlock and progress. Imagine a time when automakers, regulators and environmentalist are all working together, in partnership, to build markets for clean cars, cut our dangerous dependence on oil, and re-invest in American manufacturing leadership.

The latest clean car agreement brought together unusual bedfellows in an unprecedented and diverse array of support… from automakers to environmentalists, Republicans to Democrats, consumer advocates to energy security advocates, business leaders to labor unions.

Let’s hope those who want to disrupt this program and return us to the dark days of political gridlock don’t succeed. The choice is ours …. and the stakes are very high for the U.S. auto industry:  American jobs and our nation’s future.

I look forward to working with you to keep things moving ahead in the right direction. Thank you!

[The EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are taking public comment this month on the proposed new 54.5 mpg standard. The agencies will hold three public hearings, each from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. on Jan. 17 in Detroit at the Courtyard
Detroit Downtown, 333 East Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48226; on Jan. 19 at the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia Downtown, 1800 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103 and on  Jan. 24, at the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf, 555 North Point Street, San Francisco, California 94133. Citizens may also comment online at the website for the NHTSA’s Draft Environmental Impact
Statement (Draft EIS)
.]


Aug 112011
 

California has led the nation in “code orange” dangerous air days this year.

From Green Right Now Reports

Many American’s are feeling the stress of extreme heat and drought this summer, but we’re also experiencing a worsening smog problem. Most of the nation – from seaside suburbs to our national parks – has experienced health-threatening “bad air” days this year due to smog pollution, according to a new analysis of government air pollution data by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Led by California, about 250 communities and parks in nearly 40 states have experienced one or more “code orange” dangerous air days this year, making it unsafe for children, older adults and people with breathing problems to go outside.

In all, more than 2,000 “code orange” air quality alerts occurred nationwide in just the first seven months of this year, with many areas having long stretches of days with bad air due to elevated smog levels.

The NRDC analysis comes amid ongoing EPA delays for approving updated air pollution standards that could save thousands of American lives and stop tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year, according to the advocacy group.

“The bottom line is that we have way too many days in way too many places when the air is unsafe for our kids,” NRDC Clean Air Director John Walke said in a statement. “The EPA needs to quit stalling on tougher smog standards promised years ago and protect our children, our elderly and all of us.”

Under standards set in 1997, the EPA considers air to be unhealthy if levels of ozone – the primary ingredient in smog – reach 84 parts per billion. The Bush administration lowered the ozone standard to 75 parts per billion in 2008, but ignored unanimous recommendations of its science advisors that a truly protective standard needed to be set within 60-70 parts per billion. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has proposed adopting more protective standards within that range, and the agency is expected to announce its decision soon.

According to the NRDC analysis:

  • California and New Jersey lead the country in dangerous air days. But even more rural states such as Maine, Vermont and Kansas also had dangerous air days this year, partly because of smog blown in from other states.
  • Along with metro areas throughout California, cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C. and Washington, D.C. all had 20 or more dangerous air days already this year.
  • Nine national parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains and Acadia National Park had dangerous air days this year because of smog blown in from other areas.

Resources


Aug 042011
 

From Green Right Now Reports

Climate change is expected to lead to worsening drought conditions and greater heat extremes, along with myriad health problems. And a new web tool created by the Natural Resources Defense Council lets you see read just how badly your state could be impacted by climate change.

Based on an analysis of weather station data gathered by the National Climatic Data Center and other sources, NRDC’s new “Climate Change Threatens Health” webpage lets users see the effects of climate change at a regional and state level. On the site, you can view local data and maps detailing extreme weather patterns throughout the country, as well as learning about the local climate change vulnerabilities and health problems facing your own community.

For example, the NRDC web tool compares temperature data in each state from 2000 through 2009 to local temperatures from 1961 to 1990. You’ll see that residents of the western United States experienced more days of extreme heat than in previous decades and a frequency of drought conditions from 2000 through 2009.

This extreme heat can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease, while drought can lead to lower crop yields and contaminated drinking water. Many communities do not have plans in place to address these problems.

Among the key findings:

  • 20 states that have experienced the worst extreme heat are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia. This means residents in the majority of these states and in D.C. experienced more than two weeks per summer of extreme heat that was worse than in past decades.
  • All but two states had at least one county that experienced more than two weeks of summer days of extreme heat.
  • About 81 percent of those states most vulnerable to extreme heat do not have heat-health adaptation plans (AL, AK, AZ, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, ID, KS, MA, MT, NV, NM, TX, UT, WY). This highlights the lack of climate-health preparedness in many locations.
  • On the positive side, 19 percent (4 of 21) of states in the highest heat-vulnerability group (CA, NH, OR, WA) also have heat preparedness plans. Seven “vulnerable” states have extreme heat climate preparedness plans already in place to help protect their residents’ health (FL, ME, MD, NY, PA, VA, WI).

“Climate change is real and in many cases is already affecting people and natural ecosystems,” Kim Knowlton, senior scientist in NRDC’s health and environment program, said in a statement. “Our analysis will help people across the country find out exactly how climate change affects their state. From the dangers of extreme heat and increased flooding to the spread of ragweed whose pollen causes allergies or mosquitoes that can spread disease, climate change does not discriminate and local communities need to be better prepared.”

Dan Lashof, director of NRDC’s Climate Center, said these threats, aggravated by increased levels of carbon pollution, illustrate the danger of congressional efforts to dismantle the Clean Air Act and its public health protections.

“Climate preparedness should be better funded, and the states that don’t have public health preparedness strategies in their climate adaptation plans definitely need to add those,” Lashof said. “Our maps show this is an ongoing problem, and the health effects of this summer’s heat waves have not even been fully measured yet.”


Feb 232011
 


By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

New York City, the nation’s best networked metro area, provides the full course of transportation options. Here you can easily hop a plane, train, bus or taxi. You can live car-free (if you don’t count that taxi) and conduct a low-carbon commute, or even reside a walk away from where you work. You can fly in, you can fly out. You can commute to Boston, if you’re dedicated.

Lincoln residents enjoy an accessible bus service.

So it’s little surprise that NYC — where households average just 9,920 miles of car travel in a year — tops a new list of 15 cities that are providing residents with greener transportation systems.

The list, the result of a study the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Smart Cities project and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, was released today.

The other large cities that made the cut — Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco and metro Washington D.C. — also bring a credible history of providing residents with trains, subways, buses and trolleys. (D.C., however, was singled out more for its Capital Bike Share program, which has made more than 1,100 bikes available for pick up at solar-powered docking stations in DC and Arlington County.)

It’s the rest of the list that’s eye-opening. Smart transportation, it seems, has hit the rails for the heartland.

The medium and small cities lauded for enticing motorists out of their cars with cleaner, affordable public transit include the new hotbeds of mass transit, Lincoln, Neb., and Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

Other cities making the list:  Jersey City and Honolulu. Aloha to public transportation.

The NRDC, in collaboration with the CNT, created the list of cities after surveying the availability of public transit, household automobile use and ownership, and innovative transportation programs. It found several small and medium-sized cities were enticing motorists out of their cars with cleaner, affordable public transit that knits their area with multiple modes of  transportation.

In Champaign-Urban, for instance, transportation planners found the the area around the University of Illinois was walkable and provided affordable housing nearby. Those who lived further out, however, were stuck with cars that they often couldn’t afford. So officials expanded the bus system and made it more affordable, just $60 for an annual pass. Ridership shot up and is expected to continue to grow now that 90 percent of the region’s 130,000 residents live within a quarter mile of a bus route.

In Lincoln, Neb., making mass transit affordable and expansive, also worked to bring in riders. Lincoln’s annual bus pass is just $7.50 a month for low income riders (and only $45 for everyone else).

Lincoln also has worked diligently to reel in sprawl (think of it as a smaller Portland) with a variety of policies. It has helped keep residential life comfortable inside the city limits by encouraging “complete streets” that incorporate spaces for pedestrians, bikes and mass transit.

In Lincoln, these policies have made the city’s average commute one of the shortest (17 minutes) among similarly sized cities, and preserved natural spaces around the city for agriculture and wildlife.

“Innovative transit policies not only benefit the environment, but they also add richness to urban life by making city attractions and neighborhoods more accessible,” said Paul McRandle, Senior Editor of NRDC’s Smarter Cities Project. “By enhancing regional transportation programs we can improve our quality of life, boost our local economies, reduce air pollution and even benefit public health by making biking and walking safer and more enjoyable for commuters.”

The Top 15 Smarter Cities for Transportation

Large (population > 1 million)

Boston, MA/NH

Chicago, IL

New York, NY

Portland, OR

Philadelphia, PA/NJ

San Francisco, CA

Washington, DC/MD/VA/WV

Medium (pop. between 250,000 – 1 million)

Boulder-Longmont, CO

Honolulu, HI

Jersey City, NJ

New Haven, CT

Small (pop. < 250,000)

Bremerton, WA

Champaign-Urbana, IL

Lincoln, NE

Yolo, CA

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

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Jan 242011
 

(Peter Lehner is the executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group, which supports efforts to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and raise mileage standards for American-made cars.)

Peter Lehner

When he delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama will present a report card on how the nation has fared the past year, offer up an agenda that seeks to bridge our partisan divide, and share with the American people his vision of where he wants to lead the country.

The president can cover all three bases by embracing a clean-energy agenda that boosts our economy and strengthens the safeguards that protect our health, our waters, our lands and the air we breathe.

No review of 2010 can overlook one of the worst environmental disasters of our time–the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. This was a national wake-up call to break our costly and dangerous dependence on oil and move faster toward cleaner, safer, more sustainable sources of energy. Adopting this month’s recommendations by the national BP oil spill commission is a good start.

Nothing is more important than reviving our economy. And we can put millions of Americans back to work by investing in renewable fuels, fostering sustainable communities and demanding even more energy-efficiency in our cars, our workplaces, our homes and the products we use.

That also will make our companies more competitive and keep our workers at the forefront in the global race for clean-energy solutions—and make us more secure and less dependent on foreign oil.

We can debate the details and disagree over specifics. But inaction is no longer an option.

Above all, we mustn’t be stymied or mislead by those who paint these needed change as some devious job-destroying tax. What kills jobs is insisting on looking backward when opportunity lies ahead.

That’s the fundamental choice we face. Let’s embrace our future and common destiny. Let’s follow where opportunity leads.

Let’s build on the strength of American innovation and investment. Let’s not turn our backs on four decades of progress toward cleaner air, fresher water, healthier wildlife and more fertile lands that sustain us all.

Toward that end, we must ensure that scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency retain the tools they need to do their job. After 40 years of progress–getting the lead out of gasoline, phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals, reducing pollution that causes acid rain–the agency’s scientists have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and improved the quality of life for us all.

A healthier nation means fewer people with asthma, heart and lung disease and cancer—and billions of dollars in savings in health care costs. That also will increase our economic competitiveness across the board.

But Big Polluters and their allies in Congress are trying to block EPA from further updating health safeguards. But who wants to return to the dark days when heavy metals poisoned our waters and toxic chemicals tainted our air; when rivers ran so rich with oil and petrochemical waste that they literally burst into flames?

The Big Polluters would gut the Clean Air Act, a 1970 law—one of the most effective pieces of legislation in our history when it comes to protecting and improving our health.

Rather, we should unite behind President Obama’s pledge to cut U.S. carbon pollutions and join the world in addressing this mounting challenge.

Instead of trying to shackle EPA, our leaders in Washington should support its mission to reduce mercury, arsenic, greenhouse gases and other life-threatening forms of pollution.

Finally, with Congress due to take up a major transportation bill this year, we should use this opportunity to lay the groundwork for a competitive 21st-Century transportation system that will improve commerce and our quality of life.

Two hundred and twenty-one years after George Washington delivered the first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, we now are the guardians of a richly blessed but imperiled land.

Let’s not pass on to our children a legacy tarnished by fear and neglect. Let’s stand up for the clean air, the fresh water and the healthy wildlife upon which America’s future depends.”


Sep 022010
 

Satellite image of Jamestown (Photo: NASA)

From Green Right Now Reports

More than $200 million in spending and 4,000 Virginia jobs supported by the six million visitors each year to Jamestown, Chincoteague and Shenandoah National Park are at risk if climate change remains on its current path, according to a major new report issued this week by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Among the possible changes: a loss of Chincoteague’s beach, the complete flooding by higher tidal waters of historic Jamestown Island – site of the continent’s original English settlement in 1607 – and the decline of the brilliant fall colors of Shenandoah National Park.

The report details the wide range of impacts from higher temperatures, rising water levels and stronger hurricanes on Jamestown, which is a part of Colonial National Historical Park, Shenandoah National Park and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Jamestown is where America’s colonial history began, with the first permanent European settlement in what became the original colonies and then the United States. It also is where representative democracy in America began.

Chincoteague NWR on the southern end of Assateague Island on Virginia’s Atlantic coast has more than 14,000 acres of beach, forest, and marsh habitats that are home to a wide variety of migratory birds, plants, and other animals. Located just 70 miles from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah NP is a crown jewel of the United States’ national park system.

Higher seas resulting from human-caused climate change threaten Jamestown and Chincoteague NWR. Globally, three feet or more of sea-level rise is now believed to be most plausible by century’s end. Because the land along Virginia’s coastlines is naturally subsiding, the local rise of seas and tidal waters will be even greater than the global average. The report identifies such possible outcomes as the flooding of “virtually all of Jamestown Island” and “‘nothing less than a wholesale transformation’” of Chincoteague after sea-level rise of about three to four and a half feet by this century’s end.

Before Jamestown and much of Chincoteague may be inundated by higher water levels, key historical, archaeological, and natural resources could be destroyed or damaged by storm surges and erosion resulting from stronger hurricanes and coastal storms. At risk is the original Jamestown Fort of 1607, a corner of which has already been lost to erosion by the James River. The barrier island containing Chincoteague is at very high risk of fragmentation by the natural forces of winds and waves, augmented by unnaturally higher seas and stronger storms resulting from human-caused climate change.

Also threatened by erosion could be resources at the Yorktown battlefield, which like Jamestown is part of Colonial NHP. One key site at risk is Redoubt 10, on the edge of a cliff along a stretch of the York River that has suffered erosion over the years. This was the scene of a key battle won by Revolutionary forces under the command of Colonel Alexander Hamilton, part of the decisive final offense that led to the surrender a few days later of the British army at Yorktown, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. The nearby Moore House, at which the terms of surrender were arranged, is also potentially exposed to shoreline erosion.

The famous fall colors of the Shenandoah are at risk due to the projected invasion of less colorful pine and other trees considered to be more Southern.

Wild horses at Chincoteague National Wildlife refuge.

Higher temperatures are expected at all three sites. Jamestown and Chincoteague could be 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter and Shenandoah 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, under one scenario. According to the report: “With the region’s largest temperature increases projected for the summer, intolerable heat may become a real problem (for would-be visitors) at Jamestown and perhaps Chincoteague.”

Extreme weather in the form of major downpours and more flooding could transform Shenandoah NHP. The amount of rain falling in heavy storms increased by 20 percent over the past century, and scientists believe there is at least a 90 percent likelihood that heavy downpours will become even more frequent and intense, causing more flooding. Shenandoah, with its steep mountain terrain, is particularly vulnerable to slope failure and debris flows during severe storms, as illustrated by a June 1995 storm in which about two feet of rain fell in a few hours, causing a mountainside slope in the park to give way, sending trees and boulders the size of houses tumbling downhill.


Jul 192010
 


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(In this column, Sasha Lyutse, a public policy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Welch Environmental Innovation Fellow, based in New York City, argues that corn ethanol is a mature industry that may no longer merit the wealth of subsidies it receives, particularly in light of research showing it is not as efficient as new technologies in cutting carbon pollution. The blog was first posted on the NRDC’s Switchboard blog site.)

By Sasha Lyutse

Sasha Lyutse

Yesterday afternoon, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its evaluation of the costs and benefits of federal biofuels tax credits, including the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), the largest U.S. subsidy for renewable energy that goes almost entirely to corn ethanol.  The release comes against the backdrop of a full court press by corn ethanol industry lobbyists to push Congress to extend the VEETC and a disappointing attempt by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to attach a 5-year extension of the corn ethanol tax credit to a Senate energy bill ostensibly supporting renewable energy, which we discussed here and the NRDC Action Fund discussed here.

The results of the CBO study, conducted at the request of Senator [Jeff] Bingaman (D-New Mexico), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure of the Senate Committee on Finance, were sobering:

The CBO report estimated that roughly 11 billion gallons of biofuels were produced and sold in the U.S. in 2009, over 98% of which (10.8 billion gallons) came from corn ethanol. Tax expenditures (essentially foregone tax revenues) in support of this production were roughly $5.16 billion, including VEETC payments of $0.45 cents per gallon for blending ethanol (regardless of the feedstock) and the additional $0.10 cents per gallon that “small producers” receive on the first 15 million gallons they produce.

CBO finds that before they even pay at the pump, taxpayers incur a cost of $1.78 to replace a gallon of gasoline by substituting corn ethanol. This accounts for not only the cost of the VEETC per gallon, but the relative energy content differences between ethanol and gasoline (gasoline contains ~32% more energy than a gallon of ethanol, so 1.48 gallons of ethanol are required to replace one gallon of gasoline), and changes in the consumption of ethanol and gasoline that can be attributed to the tax credit. In other words, the taxpayer cost of using the VEETC to promote corn ethanol depends largely on the amount of corn ethanol that would have been produced if the credits had not been available. According to CBO, that’s the majority of it:

Based on the results of analysis done at the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), CBO estimates that if no other policies were in place, eliminating the tax credit would reduce corn ethanol consumption by 32%. Importantly, FAPRI also estimates the impact of eliminating the tax credit if RFS mandates remain in place and finds that domestic production drops just 10% over five years, which we discuss here and in our Fact Sheet on the VEETC here. The redundancy is clear, but taxpayers continue to foot the multi-billion dollar bill.

And the costs to taxpayers of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the corn ethanol tax credit?  CBO’s estimate excludes the emissions associated with land use change—i.e. the carbon dioxide that is released from forests or grasslands that are cleared and converted to farmland as a result of ethanol production—though the report notes that if those emissions were taken into account, the cost could increase substantially. Indeed analysis done by EPA shows that when you factor in the impacts of indirect land use chance, corn ethanol actually increases emissions relative to gasoline. However, even if we use CBO’s assumptions that ethanol produces greenhouse gas benefits, the cost is staggering: $750 for every carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) metric ton in reductions!

The conclusion could not be clearer: we are spending billions in scarce taxpayer dollars to prop up a decades-old corn ethanol industry and a mature, polluting technology – money that isn’t getting us where we need to go in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in many cases is setting us back. The good thing is key Congressional leaders are beginning to recognize the wastefulness of these policies and the opportunity we’ll miss if we don’t instead direct our support towards newer, cleaner and better-performing advanced biofuels. In response to the release of the CBO’s report, Senator Bingaman called on Congress to look seriously at the VEETC rather than just reflexively extending it:

“This report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office provides further evidence that our nation’s biofuels tax incentives might not be appropriately calibrated.  In particular, CBO’s findings should prompt Congress to critically examine whether it is appropriate to extend the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) at its current 45-cents-per-gallon level beyond the credit’s December 31 expiration.”

Calling corn ethanol a “mature technology whose market share is protected by an aggressive Renewable Fuel Standard”, he also reminded Americans of just how much corn ethanol subsidies have already cost us:

“According to the Congressional Research Service, the VEETC will cost the American taxpayer $7.6 billion this year alone.  That high price tag makes the VEETC by far our Tax Code’s largest subsidy for renewable energy.  And this annual price tag comes on top of the $41.2 billion in current dollars that U.S. taxpayers have already spent since 1980 on tax-based subsidies for ethanol.”

Like the CBO, it’s time for Congress to talk a cold hard look at just how much the VEETC costs us and just how little we get in return and let the VEETC expire at year-end.


Jul 162010
 

(In this column, Sasha Lyutse, a public policy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Welch Environmental Innovation Fellow, based in New York City, argues that corn ethanol is a mature industry that may no longer merit the wealth of subsidies it receives, particularly in light of research showing it is not as efficient as new technologies in cutting carbon pollution. The blog was first posted on the NRDC’s Switchboard blog site.)

By Sasha Lyutse

Sasha Lyutse

Yesterday afternoon, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its evaluation of the costs and benefits of federal biofuels tax credits, including the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), the largest U.S. subsidy for renewable energy that goes almost entirely to corn ethanol.  The release comes against the backdrop of a full court press by corn ethanol industry lobbyists to push Congress to extend the VEETC and a disappointing attempt by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to attach a 5-year extension of the corn ethanol tax credit to a Senate energy bill ostensibly supporting renewable energy, which we discussed here and the NRDC Action Fund discussed here.

The results of the CBO study, conducted at the request of Senator [Jeff] Bingaman (D-New Mexico), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure of the Senate Committee on Finance, were sobering:

The CBO report estimated that roughly 11 billion gallons of biofuels were produced and sold in the U.S. in 2009, over 98% of which (10.8 billion gallons) came from corn ethanol. Tax expenditures (essentially foregone tax revenues) in support of this production were roughly $5.16 billion, including VEETC payments of $0.45 cents per gallon for blending ethanol (regardless of the feedstock) and the additional $0.10 cents per gallon that “small producers” receive on the first 15 million gallons they produce.

CBO finds that before they even pay at the pump, taxpayers incur a cost of $1.78 to replace a gallon of gasoline by substituting corn ethanol. This accounts for not only the cost of the VEETC per gallon, but the relative energy content differences between ethanol and gasoline (gasoline contains ~32% more energy than a gallon of ethanol, so 1.48 gallons of ethanol are required to replace one gallon of gasoline), and changes in the consumption of ethanol and gasoline that can be attributed to the tax credit. In other words, the taxpayer cost of using the VEETC to promote corn ethanol depends largely on the amount of corn ethanol that would have been produced if the credits had not been available. According to CBO, that’s the majority of it:

Based on the results of analysis done at the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), CBO estimates that if no other policies were in place, eliminating the tax credit would reduce corn ethanol consumption by 32%. Importantly, FAPRI also estimates the impact of eliminating the tax credit if RFS mandates remain in place and finds that domestic production drops just 10% over five years, which we discuss here and in our Fact Sheet on the VEETC here. The redundancy is clear, but taxpayers continue to foot the multi-billion dollar bill.

And the costs to taxpayers of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the corn ethanol tax credit?  CBO’s estimate excludes the emissions associated with land use change—i.e. the carbon dioxide that is released from forests or grasslands that are cleared and converted to farmland as a result of ethanol production—though the report notes that if those emissions were taken into account, the cost could increase substantially. Indeed analysis done by EPA shows that when you factor in the impacts of indirect land use chance, corn ethanol actually increases emissions relative to gasoline. However, even if we use CBO’s assumptions that ethanol produces greenhouse gas benefits, the cost is staggering: $750 for every carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) metric ton in reductions!

The conclusion could not be clearer: we are spending billions in scarce taxpayer dollars to prop up a decades-old corn ethanol industry and a mature, polluting technology – money that isn’t getting us where we need to go in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in many cases is setting us back. The good thing is key Congressional leaders are beginning to recognize the wastefulness of these policies and the opportunity we’ll miss if we don’t instead direct our support towards newer, cleaner and better-performing advanced biofuels. In response to the release of the CBO’s report, Senator Bingaman called on Congress to look seriously at the VEETC rather than just reflexively extending it:

“This report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office provides further evidence that our nation’s biofuels tax incentives might not be appropriately calibrated.  In particular, CBO’s findings should prompt Congress to critically examine whether it is appropriate to extend the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) at its current 45-cents-per-gallon level beyond the credit’s December 31 expiration.”

Calling corn ethanol a “mature technology whose market share is protected by an aggressive Renewable Fuel Standard”, he also reminded Americans of just how much corn ethanol subsidies have already cost us:

“According to the Congressional Research Service, the VEETC will cost the American taxpayer $7.6 billion this year alone.  That high price tag makes the VEETC by far our Tax Code’s largest subsidy for renewable energy.  And this annual price tag comes on top of the $41.2 billion in current dollars that U.S. taxpayers have already spent since 1980 on tax-based subsidies for ethanol.”

Like the CBO, it’s time for Congress to talk a cold hard look at just how much the VEETC costs us and just how little we get in return and let the VEETC expire at year-end.


Jun 092010
 

Green Right Now Reports

The Natural Resources Defense Council, and many other environmental groups, are campaigning with renewed vigor for a clean energy bill, in the wake of the ongoing BP oil disaster.

In this NRDC video, longtime conservationist Robert Redford reflects on the oil catastrophe, saying its time to recognize that self-interested  oil companies will never want to give up risky oil drilling, if there’s profit to be made.

Congress, however, could turn away from polluting, dangerous offshore oil drilling, and should consider that Americans want a new direction, say Redford and NRDC leaders like Wesley Warren.

In May, an NRDC-commissioned poll (of 800 U.S. citizens) showed that a solid majority of Americans (71 percent) favor “fast-track legislation that will require greater emphasis on renewable forms of energy and quickly move the country off our dependence on oil.”

In the video, Redford speaks with empathy toward those who depend on the energy industry for jobs. But he also notes that the oil company claims that they are doing “greener” things are suspect.


Jun 032010
 

From Green Right Now Reports

(Editor’s note: On June 10, the Senate voted 53-47 to reject Murkowski’s bill.)

While some U.S. senators struggle to find a way forward on climate action, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has stepped into the fray to call for a time out.

She’s not alone. Many others in Congress have said they’re more concerned about slowing government regulations than slowing climate change. But she has recently distinguished herself as one of the strongest opponents of controls on carbon pollution.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to a group of lawyers in May. (Photo: C-Span)

Murkowski, a longtime supporter of oil drilling, has become more vocal in the past year in her efforts to keep industry free of strong environmental controls. In January, she proposed stripping the EPA of its ability to  regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

More recently, she’s lamented that the BP oil disaster has temporarily halted exploratory offshore drilling in the arctic planned by Shell Oil for this summer; a topic that even many conservative opponents of climate action have remained silent on in the face of the unfolding historic despoiling of the gulf.

Murkowski’s first measure, a proposal to stop the EPA from developing regulations to control GHGs, is set to come up for a Senate vote next week. And it’s not part of a fringe movement. The bill has attracted 41 co-signers, mostly Republicans and a few conservative democrats, and needs only 10 more, a simple majority, to pass.

Supporters of the measure, which challenges the EPA’s authority to decide which businesses are regulated, may have varied reasons for signing on.

Either way, environmentalists are worried.

The bill, known as the Resolution of Disapproval or SJ Resolution 26, would “dismantle” the EPA’s ability to enforce GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act and also would undermine the coming higher gas mileage standards for cars and trucks set in motion by the Obama Administration last year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Those new mileage standards were premised on the same  finding that underpins the EPAs authority to regulate greenhouse gases, a finding declaring that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and endangers the public’s health. (The EPA made that finding official last December after a court ruling required the EPA to make a scientifically supportable conclusion one way or the other.)

Murkowski’s stated reason for opposing carbon regulation is straightforward: It should be Congress’ job to shape and define what these regulations, she and others have said. The EPA, they say, should not have too much latitude without Congressional oversight.

As a champion of oil and gas industry interests, Murkowski’s opposition goes beyond government protocol. Stopping action on climate action makes sense for fossil fuel companies currently unencumbered by carbon fees or taxes.

But Murkowski is a bit harder to pin down than that. She has said she believes global warming exists and once appeared amenable to supporting a Congressional climate bill.

“Murkowski once seemed to represent a new voice on climate change among congressional Republicans—but she’s now their most effective obstructionist,” wrote Kate Sheppard in a recent Mother Jones article.

Regarding the tussle over who should regulate carbon emissions. Murkowski does have some precedent on her side. Usually, Congress does have a hand in what gets regulated and how. Elected leaders set the parameters and federal agencies write the fine print and handle the enforcement. Or at the least, everyone works together to make new rules.

Climate change, however, has toppled this process. With some members of Congress not even “believing in” climate change and others wont to spend any money or make any new regulations that would displease the voters angry about big overhaul bills, the Senate has failed for a year to come up with a mutually agreeable carbon reduction plan. The latest bill, the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act has both Democratic and Republican detractors.

The EPA stepped into this void, developing rules to govern carbon pollution from vehicles, and more recently, crafting the initial rules that would regulate carbon pollution by large industrial and commercial concerns. In May, the EPA unveiled its initial plan to regulate the carbon emissions of large companies.

Outside the Capitol building, those clamoring for curbs on carbon pollution welcome the EPA’s involvement.

Environmental advocates point out that the Clean Air Act has worked well, though not perfectly, to set limits on other types of air pollution, and that it is not a big stretch to extend that EPA’s control to include the carbon emissions of industrial polluters. In fact, it is not a stretch at all in the view of the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that the EPA could rightly regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act if it found, scientifically, that such pollution was harmful. It is and they did.

Just as Murkowski would like the EPA to butt out, climate change advocates say they could do without her interference. The NRDC calls her move to undercut the EPA the “Dirty Air Act.” (See David Doniger’s latest blog explaining the politics behind Murkowski’s move.) They see the senators’ attack on the EPA as setting back the Clean Air Act and abandoning improved mileage standards, a relatively painless way to slow the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming.

As the NRDC’s senior attorney Doniger notes in his blog, even automakers are on board with making more efficient cars that will reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

The NRDC is running a campaign to stop Murkowski’s plan and asking those who support greenhouse gas regulation by the EPA and/or improved mileage economy for cars and trucks to send a note to their U.S. senators via the NRDC website.

Meanwhile, Murkowski, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources committee, continues to fight for more oil and gas drilling, especially, obviously, in Alaska, and remains a strong proponent of offshore drilling, even since the BP disaster. Murkowski:

  • Favors oil drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas where she says new and “fascinating” technologies now make it possible to safely drill, despite the harsh climate and ferocious winds. (Several major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund, recently wrote to the President urging him to ban arctic drilling, which they see as risky and capable of ruining the already fragile arctic ecosystems.)
  • Recently told a gathering of lawyers that “responsible exploration” of arctic waters is possible because oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean can be accomplished at shallower depths.
  • Defended Shell Oil’s plan to put in an exploratory oil well in the Arctic Ocean (which was put on hold by President Obama’s six-month moratorium on offshore drilling),  saying it has undergone “more scrutiny” than any other oil company in history. (In a speech to the Oceans Law and Policy Conference in May.)

Oil has been good for Alaskans, and the Alaska economy, and also for Murkowski’s campaign funds. Top contributors to Murkowski since 2005 include several energy and utility companies, according to Open Secrets.org’s Top 100 contributors to Lisa Murkowski. Some of those supporters:

  • Constellation Energy ($37,146), Edison Chouert Offshore ($36,250) and Exxon Mobil ($20,ooo)
  • FPL, Duke Energy, Occidental Petroleum, Conoco Phillips, Chevron, Excelon Valero Energy and Royal Dutch Shell (all gave $10,000 or more)
  • Koch Industries, a giant diversified business that began in oil delivery. Koch is run by brothers Charles and David Koch who support politicians and groups that deny that global warming, the best known of which is the Cato Institute. Kansas-based Koch is a privately held firm. (Koch contributes to dozens of other politicians.
  • For the record, Murkowski acknowledges global warming exists and has said favorable things about  the Cantwell-Collins Carbon Reduction Act, an alternative to the stalled Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act, which simplifies the process of charging industries for carbon pollution and returns fees collected to taxpayers. The Cantwell proposal has won some support from both Democrats and Republicans.

    Murkowski, the daughter of the former Alaskan Senator Frank Murkowski, was born in the state in 1957. She holds a BA in economics and a law degree from Willamette College of Law in Oregon. After serving as Anchorage District attorney from 1987-89 and in the Alaska State house of representatives from 1999-2002, she was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of her father, Frank H. Murkowski in 2002 when he was elected governor of Alaska. She was elected to the Senate in 2004 for a term ending Jan. 3, 2011.


Apr 292010
 

From Green Right Now Reports

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced a new “LEED for Neighborhood Development” rating system today that aims to reward communities that try to reduce urban sprawl, increase walkability and transportation options, and decrease automobile dependence.

USGBCThe new certification, developed with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, hopes to encourage development within or near existing communities and public infrastructure to reduce the impact of sprawl. It is the seventh rating system for the USGBC, which certifies residential, commercial and other properties based on their environmental footprint.

In an announcement of the new program, the USGBC noted that many studies have found that connecting communities— keeping them closer to amenities and retail services – provides economic and health benefits.

The health benefits come from reduced traffic and air pollution and increased walkability. The shortened travel times also save money, USGBC officials said, citing a 2008 study that showed “automobile dependent” communities devote 50 percent more money to transportation.

“Sustainable communities are prosperous communities for the occupants and businesses which inhabit them,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council in a statement. “LEED for Neighborhood Development projects are strategically located in or surrounding metropolitan areas – often times revitalizing brownfields, infills or other underutilized spaces, opening new revenue streams, creating jobs opportunities and helping to drive the local, state and national economies.”

The LEED for Neighborhood Development program will promote “safe and inclusive communities” with good access to jobs, businesses, schools and parks, as well as ways to get around for pedestrians, bicyclists and those wanting public transit, officials said.

“Half of the buildings we will have in 25 years are not yet on the ground,” said Kaid Benfield, Director of the Smart Growth Program, Natural Resources Defense Council, “Where we put them is even more important to the environment than how we build them, and NRDC is proud to stand alongside our partners with a system that helps guide them to the right places while avoiding the wrong ones.”

The NRDC helped develop the USGBC plans by working with Smart Growth America, a national coalition of organizations working for better communities.

The Congress for the New Urbanism brought leading city planners and architects from the New Urbanist movement to help develop the new rating system.

“LEED for Neighborhood Development contains the components for compact and complete neighborhoods. With walkable streets, appropriately-scaled schools, and a mix of amenities close by, residents can lower their environmental impact while improving their quality of life,” said John Norquist, President and CEO, Congress for the New Urbanism.