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Jun 102013

From Green Right Now Reports

Life can be risky along the Houston ship channel, where some poor neighborhoods have ended up blanketed by air pollution — from the highway, the ships and industrial operations.

Hemmed in by industry, abandoned by regulators, the residents of Manchester must worry every day about the health consequences for their children. Consider their story a cautionary tale, because such places are multiplying as the U.S. continues to lean on fossil fuels instead of making a hard turn toward cleaner, greener energy.

Already several towns at the center of the gas fracking frenzy have unwittingly signed up for a similar blight of air and water contamination.

Spend a few minutes with this beautifully filmed piece and you’ll have to consider the price of U.S. consumption, particularly its reliance on petrochemicals.

Aug 292012

From Green Right Now Reports

New gasoline standards for cars and light trucks set by the US Department of Transportation and the US EPA won final approval on Tuesday after several months of public review and hearings.

Ford Fiesta, one of the many new gas-efficient models being produced by American automakers, gets nearly 40 mpg.

The new mileage standards will require that American cars get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The EPA touted the change as a near doubling of fuel efficiency for cars, and predicted the effect on consumers would be like lowering the price of gasoline by $1 a gallon. Overall, the measure will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, according to the EPA.

Last year, 13 major automakers, accounting for the vast majority of all vehicles sold in the United States, announced their support for the new standards. The National Auto Dealers Association, however, warned that the billions in anticipated fuel savings would be partly offset by an anticipated $3000 higher price tag for cars meeting the new standard, which will be staged in beginning in 2017.

Environmental groups praised the change as much needed to curb climate change and an effective way to reduce American oil dependence. A sampling of their statements, with details about the new standards, below:

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment

“The signatory Presidents of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) welcomed the action today by the federal government to establish new fuel efficiency standards for model years 2017 to 2025, ” said Tim White, chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, and chair of the Steering Committee of the ACUPCC.

“More than 650 college university presidents have worked together for the last five years to help craft solutions to counteract the unprecedented scale and speed of global warming and its potential for large-scale, adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects. They recognize the scientific consensus that global warming is real and is largely caused by humans. And they recognize the need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by 80% by mid-century at the latest, in order to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

“Sound national policy, based on the best science, is essential to the cost-effective reduction of human caused greenhouse gases — the dominant cause of the climate change we have experienced over the last 50 years. This  action makes it far easier for the colleges and universities of the ACUPCC to meet their commitments to achieve climate neutrality.

“This action is based on both sound science and common sense, as well as good economics. For example, schools will save about $8000 in fuel costs over the life of every vehicle purchased beginning in 2025. ”

The Natural Resources Defense Council

“Everybody is a winner today,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC on Tuesday (Aug. 28).

“Motorists win because they will have much more fuel-efficient cars to drive, thus saving thousands of dollars at the gas pump every year.

“The auto industry—and its workers–win because these standards will spur the creation of thousands of new jobs as well as state-of-the-art vehicles that go nearly twice as far on the same gallon of gasoline.

“Everybody wins because using less gasoline will reduce our dependence on oil and lead to cleaner air. Less pollution means a healthier populace and lower medical bills. That’s great for our economy.

“These new standards, moreover, will reduce carbon pollution that drives climate change. That’s a win for everybody around the world—and a very big win for future generations.

League of Conservation Voters

“We just won a major victory: The Obama administration has finalized new fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards that will raise the average gas mileage on cars to 54.5 mpg by 2025,” wrote LCV president Gene Karpinski to league members.

“Simply put, this is the single biggest thing the United States government has ever done to reduce global warming pollution.

“This year, more than 35,000 LCV activists like you spoke out in support of stronger fuel and emissions standards and the Obama administration responded by creating a standard that will cut the amount of global warming pollution from our tailpipes in half, save you money at the pump, and create thousands of jobs.”

GM's Volt, an EV that already consumes only a small amount of gasoline to extend its range.

Car dealers offer support, but with caution

Not everyone was completely confident that the new rules will be universally positive.

The National  Automobile Dealers Association released a statement supporting the changes, but reiterating its concern that the new rules will raise the price of cars.

National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)

“America’s new car dealers support continuous fuel economy increases. NADA remains concerned that model year 2017-2025 mandates, coupled with previous Obama administration fuel economy regulations, will hike the average price of a new vehicle by nearly $3,000 when fully implemented. This increase shuts almost 7 million people out of the new car market entirely and prevents many millions more from being able to afford new vehicles that meet their needs. If this rule suppresses new vehicle sales, achieving the nation’s greenhouse gas and energy security goals will be needlessly delayed. Auto dealers will continue the important work of helping consumers meet their transportation needs, despite being shackled by the cost increases under this rule. As this rule ignores the essential role that consumers play, Congress needs to continue to review these regulations to ensure that affordable vehicles are available to all Americans.”

Jan 182012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

It’s one of those cold, white-bright days of winter. We’ve not had many like it this January. Instead, we’ve been walking around outdoors in our shirt sleeves, sneezing from pollen allergies and having a lot of little conversations about the unusual warm “spell”.

We’re experiencing climate change, of course, and it’s not a spell, but a new norm. Nearly everyone recognizes that something’s going on. Sometimes I feel like a character in Twin Peaks, exchanging knowing glances with the neighbors over these changes we cannot speak of because it’s somehow become radical to openly declare that climate change is happening, even though people in all walks of life can see it plainly. I’m thinking about farmers, landscapers, urban planners, builders, utility managers, insurers, scientists, oceanographers, biologists, botanists, power plant operators….

Our political leaders and mass media are at least partly to blame for having distorted the dialogue. By depriving the topic of oxygen, they’ve suffocated discussion. So while thousands of agencies around the world grapple with the reality of climate change, maple sugar farmers in Vermont prepare to lose their business to Canada and NASA snaps another picture of the disappearing Arctic,  it fails to penetrate even the endless Republican debates. Lord knows they’ve had enough air time to get into it.

It could be just one more disconnect, similar to how income disparity has rankled the masses but bounced off the rubber politi-scape.

Except it’s not. A disconnect.

With climate change, anyway, leaders of both parties are deliberately avoiding the issue. Acknowledging this giant gorilla in the corner would be to admit that carbon pollution, and therefore  that our fossil fuel-based economy, has unhealthy consequences.

A question we can and must ask is how  do we step away from the fossil fuels that heat our houses, cook our food, propel our cars and serve as the building blocks for the plastic products that encase our food and electronics?

We can take two important steps:

The Energy Information Administration chart breaks down where our energy came from in 2010.

First, we support the move toward clean, renewable energy – wind, solar and geothermal — to power our buildings. If the US continues to provide tax credits to these job-creating, carbon-reducing industries, and states continue to set goals to add renewables to their portfolios, residents will reap the rewards with reliable electricity that will ultimately cost less. We’ll have cleaner air and jobs designed for the future. Already, the American solar and wind industries employ some 180,000 people in America and provide a small, but rapidly growing slice of the power pie (see chart above).

We could all learn from Iowa, where leaders decided that wind power gave its residents options. Now Iowa’s farmers earn lease money from the wind farms that provide nearly 20 percent of that state’s energy. Communities have jumped in with locally owned wind installations. School districts have installed wind towers in the sweet spots. Universities and community colleges have added courses to support new energy. Local economies are growing stronger, and consumers pay no more for their wind-powered electricity.

Texas also has a great wind story, with three of its cities, Dallas, Austin and Houston, using wind for municipal power and San Antonio planning a solar farm to rival any in the world. California pushed solar forward with solar with its million rooftops initiative. Then New Jersey offered solar incentives and shot to the top of the states making solar gains.

Consumers can participate in all these developments in a variety of ways. They can add solar panels or small wind to their own households. They can buy clean power from the grid. They can advocate for their town or business to use clean energy. And they can support retailers who’ve shifted to renewables through programs like WindMade, which identifies products that are manufactured using wind power. (We can do all that, and not waste our time with recalcitrant national politicians.)

Second, we must reduce the energy, mainly gasoline, that we consume for transportation.

That’s where the Obama Administration is heading with its proposal to gradually increase the average mileage for US-made cars and trucks to 54.5 mpg between 2017 and 2025.

This single, sweeping change would cut in half the amount of gasoline Americans consume.  Most people offering comments on the proposal at a hearing in Detroit yesterday were strongly supportive of this non-partisan effort.

The move to stricter mileage standards will reduce dependence on foreign oil, cut carbon pollution, reduce costs for consumers and create new jobs in the auto industry, enthused Bob King, president of the United Autoworkers Union.

“That’s a strong set of positives,” he said.

The new mileage goals will circumvent the need to drill in fragile places like the Alaskan Arctic or deep in the ocean, risking disasters like the BP Gulf oil spill, said Larry Schweiger, executive president of the National Wildlife Federation.

“The best place to drill for oil,” declared Schweiger at the hearing, “is under the hoods of our cars.”

By saving on gasoline, if not on the upfront cost of a car, consumers will still net a savings of around $3,000 over the 10-year life of an automobile, said Dr. Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America.

“These standards may well be the most important energy policy of the last quarter century,” he said. “They are win, win, win.”

But it’s not just workers, consumers and environmentalists who will benefit. The auto industry is embracing these new standards as a path toward revived relevance, with the provision that the federal government can review progress and make adjustments midway in the 13-year process.

Car dealers expressed some concern at the Detroit hearing that the new technologically advanced cars will cost consumers more at the outset – perhaps as much as $3,000 compared with today. Even though they’ll easily recoup that cost at the pump, buyers of modest means could be shut out of financing.

But another dealer pointed out that the costs could be leveled as technology advances.

Manufacturers representatives speaking during the opening of the hearing predicted that consumers will want the new technology, and understand that it affords them a net savings.

As John Viera, director of sustainability for Ford Motor Co. noted, one-third of the carmaker’s 2012 models already offer 40 mpg or better — a response to consumer desires.

“The standards proposed are aggressive,” he said, “but so are the demands from consumers for fuel efficiency.”

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jul 292011

From Green Right Now Reports

America’s cars and trucks will average about 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 under the second phase of the Obama Administration’s national vehicle program, which is backed by 13 automakers.

GM's Cruze 4 cyl. automatic gets 26/36 mpg.

Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo — which represent more than 90 percent of the cars and light trucks sold in the US, all back the plan, which was formally announced today.

“We’ve set an aggressive target and the companies are stepping up to the plate,” said President Obama, who called the plan the single most important step the nation has taken to reduce its oil dependence.

The EPA estimates that the new standards will save consumers vast sums at the pump, dramatically increase US energy security and slash greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles:

  • Consumers should save about $1.7 trillion at the pump in aggregate (from 2011 to Model Year 2025) and $8,000 per vehicle by 2025.
  • Foreign oil consumption would be cut in half by 2025; reduced by 2.2 million barrels a day, which is about 50 percent of the oil imports from OPEC every day.
  • The standards will cut more than 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the program – more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States last year.

Ramping up vehicle efficiency also should generate new, well-paying jobs as automakers develop new technologies and manufacturing techniques to build and deploy a greener fleet, according to the EPA and the US Department of Transportation.

Ford Fiesta, 29/38 mpg.

“This is another important step toward saving money for drivers, breaking our dependence on imported oil and cleaning up the air we breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “American consumers are calling for cleaner cars that won’t pollute their air or break their budgets at the gas pump, and our innovative American automakers are responding with plans for some of the most fuel efficient vehicles in our history.”

The new standards will be staged in, with passenger car requirements set to become more about five percent more stringent each year and pick-ups and other light-duty trucks increasing an average of 3.5 percent annually for the first five model years and about five percent annually for the last four model years of the program.

In addition to the car makers, the agreement is backed by the United Autoworkers and the state of California, which has been pushing for emissions improvements.
The EPA and the National Transportation Safety Board plan to publish details and cost analyses of the proposal by September, after which the plan will be open for public comment.

Learn more about the proposed new standards at Driving Efficiency:  Cutting Costs for Families at the Pump and Slashing Dependence on Oil.

In a news release, the EPA said that the agencies involved — the EPA and DOT — are considering “a number of incentive programs” to encourage the early adoption of “game changing” improvements such as:

  • Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and fuel cell vehicles.
  • Incentives for advanced technology packages for large pickups, such as hybrids.
  • Credits for technologies able to reduce CO2 emissions and fuel economy improvements that go beyond the standards.

Mar 312011

From Green Right Now Reports

President Barack Obama unveiled a “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future” on Wednesday in a speech at Georgetown University, saying once again that the U.S. needs to wean itself from foreign oil and stop “being a victim” of the oil markets.

It’s a message the nation has heard from half a dozen presidents. But never has it been more urgent, with the oil-rich Middle East exploding in civil unrest; rising global demand pushing gasoline prices to $4 a gallon again in the U.S., and fossil fuel emissions  contributing to the greenhouse gases triggering climate change.

Obama listed several ways the U.S. can step down its reliance in Middle East oil, including tapping more domestic oil and gas. But he acknowledged that the U.S. consumption of 20 percent of the world’s oil far exceeds the 2 percent of oil reserves it controls, and also that oil “will eventually run out”.

“There are no quick fixes,” he said, before outlining a variety of solutions to reduce U.S. consumption, such as more efficient cars and houses, and new energy sources, such as biofuels, as well as existing domestic sources of energy, like nuclear power (as long as its safe).

The president reiterated the goal articulated in his State of the Union address for the U.S. to obtain 80 percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources of energy like solar and wind power by 2035.

He also suggested that Americans need a more realistic attitude toward oil and gasoline.

“We cannot keep going from shock when gas prices go up to trance when they go back down,” he said.

Mar 292011

From Green Right Now Reports

This awesome capsulization of the industrial age by the Bay-Area Post Carbon Institute recently won a YouTube award for best non-profit video.

It’s must-see viewing for anyone wondering whether fossil fuels are the root of global problems. Could our dependence on finite, dirty, polluting fossil fuels be devastating the environment, jeopardizing food production, endangering future generations and fueling unending wars? (Hint: The answer could be yes.)

While many have aimed to tell this story and many more have tried to obfuscate the core truth of it, this abbreviated little gem, forced to stick to the facts for the sake of brevity, rises above. Go ahead, you’ve got 300 seconds.

(Credits: Narrated by Richard Heinberg, illustrated by MonstroDesign.com; music from “Can I Kick It?” by Tribe Called Quest.)

Feb 242011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You  may or may not agree with T. Boone Pickens’ theory that natural gas is the best bridge fuel to the future.

Some people, especially those living atop “fracked” and soon-to-be fracked gas shale formations, worry that drilling can contaminate water supplies and emit harmful air pollution. For them, the fact that natural gas burns much cleaner than gasoline does not adequately compensate for these environmental threats.

Still, there’s no arguing that the celebrated Texas oilman makes a strong point about America’s costly oil dependence.

He has been arguing for years that we are paying for both sides of our wars in the Middle East. We pay to outfit our military, and we underwrite the opposition by buying their oil.

The stupidity of that cycle is hard to match. (Burning forests for toilet paper, killing sharks just for their fins and feeding cattle grain that makes them, and later, us, sick  are a few similarly stupid activities that come to mind.)

Lately the futility of our Middle East adventures is coming into stark relief. If we were ever there to promulgate democracy, it sure appears this month as if we did a poor job of it. Democracy is breaking out across the Arab world – wherever we aren’t fighting.

We seem to have been almost as bad at ferreting out terrorists. Need we examine how well we’ve protected our oil interests? By the time we get that down, it could be sunset for oil supplies, a thought that keeps T. Boone and many others on edge.

Civil unrest in Libya, combined with other world events, may hasten the U.S. day of reckoning. Yesterday, when the price of Texas intermediate crude oil leaped over the benchmark of $100 a barrel, newscasts carried stories about rising gas prices at the pump.

T. Boone took the opportunity to issue another warning:

“I predicted we would see $100 oil by end of the first quarter and now – less than two months into the new year – it’s here,” he said.

“The unrest in Libya has sent prices soaring and there will be no end in sight if we continue to be dependent on oil from unfriendly nations.  The U.S. is now spending around $1.2 billion a day to import oil. There was never any question instability elsewhere would raise oil prices, the only question is: Why didn’t we do anything to protect ourselves from it?  We can no longer afford to stand by and watch this happen as our national security is put at risk.”

T. Boone’s solution is part of his Pickens Plan, in which he proposes to convert transport trucks to natural gas.

Pickens wants Congress and the Obama Administration to fuel heavy-duty trucks with natural gas so “we can immediately reduce our dependence on OPEC oil, which in turn will improve national security while also strengthening our economy.”

“Getting off OPEC oil and onto our own resources should be the number one priority in America. We cannot continue to let what is happening in other countries dramatically impact our economy here in the United States.  We use more oil than anyone else and we have no energy plan.  The solution is right in front of us and now is the time to get serious and put a plan in place.”

All this would, of course, benefit Pickens, whose holdings include natural gas leases as well as compressor stations. But it could be mutually beneficial, providing a way to step off gasoline quicker, by expanding low-emissions options beyond the electric vehicles that will take years to scale up.

It’s also likely to trigger more domestic clashes over where gas wells can and cannot be built. New York residents are worried about their Hudson Valley watershed. Many Texans are rejecting gas companies that have commenced drilling near neighborhoods and schools (disclosure: I live in one of those cities). This urban drilling already jeopardizes air quality and water aquifers in several communities. Air monitors have recorded low, but consistent, levels of benzene and many other chemicals in the air. Farmers have reported wells contaminated with methane apparently released by nearby drilling. Many opponents of this urban drilling are aghast at the millions of gallons of water it takes to “frack” just one well (underground deposits are forced open with a blast of injected water and chemicals).

If natural gas is going to be the bridge fuel of choice for vehicles, then we also will need the Administration to step in and assure that drillers do a better job of capturing air emissions, reclaiming as much water as possible, reducing the toxic chemicals injected into the well and drilling strategically, away from urban centers and rural water wells. The cost of this regulation: A drop in the bucket compared with the cost of the war, which at last check was about $775 billion for operations in Iraq and $380 billion in Afghanistan.

More importantly, for those of us left a little queasy by these imperfect choices, we need to get the next bridge fuel in our sites. That means advocating for wind, solar and geothermal power, which are truly renewable, and can power electric cars and much more.

Finally, we must step up our own efforts to use green power at home, add energy saving devices wherever we can, and drive less and more efficiently.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network


Jul 142010

From Green Right Now Reports

Larry Hagman promotes solar power for Solar World.

Solar World AG, one of the largest photovoltaic solar panel manufacturers in the world, with factories in California, Oregon and Washington, has scored a dream advocate for its products: J.R. Ewing.

Actually, the spokesman is Larry Hagman, who played the oilman on the long-running Dallas series. Hagman reprises his oil baron role in an ad for Bonn-based Solar World, where someone obviously decided the possibilities were too rich to leave untapped.

“In the past, it was always about the oil… Too dirty,” grumbles Hagman in the spot, as a shot of a drilling rig dissolves into a wave of black water. “I gave it up a long time ago.”

He picks up his trademark ten-gallon hat and saunters onto the sunny patio of a house, where he looks up at the solar panels on the roof. Beaming, he declares, “Shine, baby, shine!”

And here’s the kicker. Hagman isn’t just a hired gun. The Fort Worth native is an advocate for solar power in real life. He and his wife Maj power their Ojai, Calif., villa entirely with solar panels they installed a few years ago. They also support the Solar Electric Light Fund, which brings solar power to impoverished areas.

The spot with Hagman, who’s also known for another iconic Texas role, that of the astronaut in I Dream of Jeannie, was unveiled this week online and is headed for TV later.

See Solar World’s FAQs for more.

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