Saturday, February 7, 2009

MIT: Nuclear Power Can’t Be a Solution to Global Warming Precisely because of Global Warming

Nuclear Power Can't Be a Solution to Global Warming Precisely because of Global Warming

Extreme Weather Events Multiply Existing Risks and Vulnerabilities of Nuclear Power: From Natural Disasters to Nuclear Disasters?

A new dawn is coming for nuclear power. This week, America found out that President Obama's economic stimulus plan includes a $50 billion loan guarantee for nuclear power plants in the Senate version. Nuclear power is about to be revived from its political and public-opinion grave to enjoy a "green renaissance," now with 35 new nuclear reactors being planned. This lethally radioactive zombie is about to get an extreme makeover with the cosmetics of combating global warming, achieving environmental stewardship, deepening economic prosperity, and attaining energy independence (touted as a national security issue by President Barack Obama). Then it will get a new name: the new green energy. The irony is that while nuclear proponents cite global warming as the key impetus for expanding nuclear power, it is precisely global climate disruptions and the associated extreme weather events which will significantly multiply and amplify the existing risks and costs of nuclear power to make it more costly, risky, lethal, and unreliable. With global warming, nuclear power threatens to turn ordinary natural disasters (such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts) into potential nuclear disasters.

Unfortunately, it's not just President Obama and his energy secretary Dr. Steven Chu who want to see nuclear power in the country's energy mix. Many other countries are seeing a nuclear resurgence as well: Germany's Angela Merkel and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi wanted more nuclear power in their energy mix as they tackle global warming, and U.K.'s Business Secretary John Hutton said in July 2008 that "Nuclear power is an essential part of our future energy mix" and Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants to be "more ambitious" with nuclear power. Hutton is quoted by the BBC as saying that nuclear power is a "safe and affordable" way of securing the U.K.'s future energy supplies while combating climate change. Today all members of G8 are more pro-nuclear than ever before.

As an insider and consultant to the nuclear industry, retired Yale professor Charles Perrow warns in his book, The Next Catastrophe (2007): "Nuclear power plants concentrate more lethal potential than anything else in our society. These vulnerabilities of nuclear power require a vigorous regulatory effort, especially since there is no meaningful liability penalty for a catastrophic accident." Unfortunately, what we see in the energy industry–just like what we see today in the financial industry and Wall Street–has been vigorous deregulation (which essentially allows the energy industry to self-regulate) and a woeful lack of governmental oversight and failure of enforcement. Perrow wrote that in 2001 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reduced federal oversight of security and "allowed the power companies to design their own security exercises, despite reviews that found, in 2000, 'alarms and video camera surveillance cameras that don't work, guards who can't operate their weapons, and guns that don't shoot….'" If the existing nuclear utilities cannot even do a decent job on securing their power plants, how can the public have faith in their ability to upgrade their facilities in the face of extreme climate disruptions or well-trained foreign terrorists?

Climate scientists working for United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have forecasted more catastrophic weather events in the near future: more floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and droughts. Mainstream media worldwide have already reported on the significantly increased unpredictable, extreme weather events with global warming. Hence, global climate change threatens to turn normal natural disasters into nuclear disasters when the two intersect, if a natural disaster happens to strike an existing nuclear power plant, a nuclear waste-storage site, or even nuclear wastes in transit.

Global Warming and Extreme Weather Events Significantly Amplify Existing Risks of Nuclear Power Plants: Floods, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Wildfires, and Droughts

Nuclear-power facilities will be affected by global climate disruptions and their associated intense storms and flooding, according to U.S. intelligence agencies' joint assessment, which was released in June 2008. In remarks prepared for a joint congressional hearing, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Thomas Fingar, said, "Two dozen nuclear facilities and numerous refineries along U.S. coastlines are at risk and may be severely impacted by storms." He also said that other U.S. infrastructure is ill-prepared for climate change.

Nuclear-power advocates tend to underestimate or altogether dismiss the risks of catastrophic weather events associated with global warming. The reality is that climate change is being forecasted by scientists (including those on the IPCC) to bring more frequent and more severe floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts. These extreme weather events are likely to wreak havoc for not just the nuclear power plants, but also for the nuclear waste storage and waste and fuel transportation.

Nuclear Power Plants Vulnerable to Frequent and More Severe Floods, Rising Sea Level, Higher Storm Surges and Waves, and Coastal Erosion

Climate scientists at U.K.'s University of Bristol who published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have forecasted that with global warming, there will be more extreme floods, droughts, forest fires for the next 200 years. Many nuclear power plants are built in flood-prone zones and in coastal areas. With more frequent and severe floods in the new era of global climate change, nuclear power plants will be more vulnerable to both floods and rising sea level.

According to NIRS, in mid-July 1993, the Cooper nuclear power station, situated on a 100-year flood plain, had to shut down its reactors when the fast-rising flood waters of the Missouri River near Brownsville, Nebraska, collapsed the surrounding dikes and levees. Later, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that the below-grade rooms in the reactor and turbine buildings had suffered extensive leakages due to rising flood waters. In fact, the nuclear power plant was not flood-proof: the electrical cables and equipment in the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling pump room had ground-out circuitry due to flood waters, and the floor-drain system had backed up, causing the standing water from the radioactive area to contaminate the clean area. Most importantly, the power-plant employees had no measures to divert water away from critical components.

Most of Britain's existing nuclear power plants are located on the coastal area (see this map in a BBC news report). According to the IPCC, sea level has been rising at a rate of 1.7 to 1.8 mm/year over the past century, with an increased rate of approximately 3.1 mm/year in the previous decade. IPCC noted that in the past 100 to 150 years, sea-level rise has contributed significantly to coastal erosion, whereby 75 percent of eastern United States shoreline has been affected and 67 percent of eastern coastline of U.K. has retreated landward of the low-water mark. U.K. is proposing to build four new nuclear power plants on its coasts: if the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet melts completely, there would be an expected 5 to 6 meters (16.4 to 19.7 feet) rise in sea level, totally inundating these nuclear power plants! Greenpeace did an excellent analysis of the impacts of climate change on the site selection of U.K.'s proposed nuclear plants.

During the December 2004 Sumatra earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami, a fast-breeder nuclear reactor at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu state was flooded by a ferocious tidal wave which surged toward the coast. The operating unit of Madras Atomic Power Station was forced to shut down after its pumping station (its cooling system) was flooded by salt water, according to Economic Times (India); the secretive Atomic Energy Regulatory Board refused to disclose whether there were radiation leaks afterwards and then there were reports of supposed safety. Fortunately, the nuclear reactor itself was not damaged structurally, but the nuclear power plant's residential complex nearby was overwhelmed by the tidal waves and several technical personnel (including nuclear scientists) died during the flood, clear evidence of poor planning to protect the nuclear power facility and staff from floods and other natural disasters.

In addition to rising sea level with global warming, IPCC scientists predicted there will be increased intensity of storms, enhanced wave heights, and worsening coastal erosion. It is difficult to imagine how governments can cope with the mounting existing problems of nuclear power plants (e.g., accidents in its operations, waste transport and storage) in an era with serious climate disruptions; now they are planning to build new plants in the path of higher sea levels and more ferocious storms—are they asking for trouble? Evidently, the existing nuclear power plants are ill-prepared for the effects of global warming. How can energy planners and policymakers be seriously thinking about constructing more nuclear power plants—especially those built in precarious locations?

Nuclear Plants Susceptible to Violent Tornadoes and Severe Thunderstorms

NASA scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies are forecasting that as Earth's climate warms, there will be more violent and severe storms and tornadoes. There will also be more "severe thunderstorms" with significant wind shear which will cause damaging winds on the ground. Meteorologists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say tornado season of 2008 is one of the deadliest in a decade and could have set the record for the most tornadoes. And flooding in the midwestern United States has been at 100-year levels in spring of 2008. Already in 2004, NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman Oklahoma recorded 1,717 tornadoes, the highest ever since record-keeping began in 1950, and nearly 300 more than the previous year.

More violent tornadoes and storms can cause significant damages to our existing nuclear power plants. But we have been lucky that no tornado thus far has caused major damage to nuclear power plants in the United States.

On April 7, 2002, the tornado that leveled the city of La Plata, Maryland, narrowly missed the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant (see photographs) located on the shores of Chesapeake Bay in Lusby, Maryland, according to a report by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. This tornado, categorized as a F4 tornado with its 260-miles-per-hour winds, could have produced winds and tornado missiles which could have seriously damaged steel-reinforced concrete structures and support systems for on-site irradiated fuel-storage ponds, off-site power supply, emergency onsite power supplies, cooling pumps, and make-up water supply.

In June 2008, a tornado hit Kansas State University campus (approximately 120 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri), flattening other buildings and causing extensive damage to the building housing the campus's nuclear reactor. Fortunately there was no damage to the reactor which had been shut down properly earlier in the day.

On June 24, 1998, the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station located on the southwestern shore of Lake Erie in Oak Harbor, Ohio, suffered a "directly hit" by an F2 tornado. Luckily, there were no radioactive leaks, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that the plant's switchyard was damaged and that access to external power was disabled. Also damaged by the tornado were the turbine building's roof, the administrative building's roof, and extensive flood damage to the latter building's second floor.

According to a 2005 hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the "robust design and construction" of U.S. nuclear power plants have "enabled them to withstand" severe natural phenomena. In this self-congratulatory statement, the committee entirely missed the fact that in the new era of global climate change and extreme weather, the frequency of "natural phenomena" and their severity will be significantly magnified.

Nuclear Plants Vulnerable to More Frequent and Severe Wildfires

Wildfires have been in the news lately, especially in California, where the fire season has been significantly lengthened and Governor Schwarzenegger even blamed global warming for elongating the fire season. Scientists forecast that with global warming, there will be more intense droughts, less precipitation, hotter weather, earlier snowmelt, and more tree diseases (such as the pine beetle currently ravaging Colorado's pine trees), all of which make the wildfires more intense and less manageable.

In October 2007, wildfires destroyed nearly 1,000 homes (and property damage surpassing $1 billion) in San Diego County, California. The wildfires raged at Camp Pendleton on October 24, 2007, within seven miles of the San Onofre nuclear power plant operated by the Southern California Edison in Oceanside, a plant with two reactors generating 2,250 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1.4 million homes. Luckily, the nuclear reactors were not online at the time. But even when nuclear reactors are not online, they still require hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to cool the reactors and need electricity to run the cooling water pumps; they might compete for this water with firefighters who also need this water to put out the surrounding wildfires.

In January 2007, a wildfire burned within two miles of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California; the 332-acre blaze was attributed to rats chewing on electrical wire inside a mobile home. Luckily, this wildfire did not reach the nuclear power plant before being extinguished.

So far, we have been lucky. In the face of the decade-long drought in the U.S. Southwest and several recent catastrophic wildfires, nuclear power plants have escaped ravage by these fires.

Droughts, Chronic Water Shortages, and the Coming Water Scarcity Are Achilles Heel of Nuclear Power Plants: No Water, No Nuclear Power. Period.

Nuclear power plants are a voracious consumer of water. Nuclear power requires even more water than gas-fired generators, at 3,100 liters per megawatt hour of electricity, just to keep the nuclear reactors from overheating. (Coal and natural gas use 2,800 liters and 2,300 liters per megawatt hours, respectively.) According to the U.S. Department of Energy's 2006 "Report to the Congress on the Interdependency of Energy and Water," the most water-intensive form of electricity generation is nuclear power, especially the plants with the open-loop cooling (once-through) design.

IPCC scientists and other climate scientists worldwide have published grim reports of freshwater availability throughout the world. With coming water shortages, it is difficult to see how the United States and the rest of the world can operate more nuclear power plants. The U.S. banking giant JP Morgan Chase has issued an interesting report, "Watching Water: A guide to evaluating corporate risks in a thirsty world," which contains a short section on energy requirements of water. Even a multinational bank has recognized that nuclear and thermoelectric power generation (in addition to mining, semiconductor manufacturing, and food and beverage industries) "are particularly exposed to water-related risks…."

In the well-publicized drought and the heat waves when temperatures soaring above 100° F in summer 2003 led to thousands of deaths across Europe, Electricit√© de France (EDF) had to shut down a quarter of its 58 nuclear power plants in France while the average electricity price skyrocketed by some 1,300%. EDF lost €300 million because it had to import electricity. Italy imported 2,650 megawatts from France each day, but since France was experiencing electricity shortfall itself, Italy was forced to cut power in many cities, trapping people in elevators and turning off traffic lights.

Three years later, during Europe's 2006 heat wave, French, German, and Spanish utilities were forced to shut down several nuclear power plants and reduce power at others for as much as a week due to low water levels.

In the summer of 2007, dubbed as having "the hottest weather in more than 50 years," the Tennessee Valley Authority had to shut down one of three reactors at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in northern Alabama due to heat waves and drought and to avoid heating the Tennessee River to dangerous levels. The irony to the story is that while nuclear power has been called reliable, during this peak of energy demand, it could not deliver due to drought and water shortages.

An Associated Press report found that 24 of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States are located in areas experiencing severe drought: In November 2007, the Harris reactor near Raleigh, North Carolina, operated by Progress Energy Inc., had to be shut down because water level in Harris Lake was too low: at only three and a half feet above the water limit set in the plant's license. Duke Energy Corp.'s McGuire nuclear power plant, which draws water from Lake Norman near Charlotte, North Carolina, was so low in 2007 that it was barely a foot above the minimum required for a backup system.

An excellent article on energy-water interdependence published by Scientific American also begins with a conflict between Florida and Alabama over water to save Florida's endangered species and to operate nuclear power plant:

In June the state of Florida made an unusual announcement: it would sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the corps's plan to reduce water flow from reservoirs in Georgia into the Apalachicola River, which runs through Florida from the Georgia-Alabama border. Florida was concerned that the restricted flow would threaten certain endangered species. Alabama also objected, worried about another species: nuclear power plants, which use enormous quantities of water, usually drawn from rivers and lakes, to cool their big reactors. The reduced flow raised the specter that the Farley Nuclear Plant near Dothan, Ala., would need to shut down.

With global warming, the world will see more chronic droughts and water scarcity, according to IPCC and many other climate scientists. With nuclear power's voracious demand for water, how can building more nuclear power plants possibly be a solution to climate change? Is nuclear power an energy solution in time of more severe droughts?

Water-Scarce and Disaster-Prone China and India Plan to Build More New Nuclear Power Plants

According to the nuclear industry association, World Nuclear Association, there are some 439 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries, with a combined capacity of more than 370 GWe; in 2007 these provided 2608 billion kWh, about 16% of the world's electricity. The two countries which are furiously building new nuclear power plants are China and India, with ambitious plans to build many more:

  • China currently has 11 operating reactors but it has ambitious plans to at least quadruple its nuclear-power capacity by 2020, according to World Nuclear Association. (Taiwan is building two new advanced boiling water reactors, or BWRs.)
  • India is now building six reactors (expected to be completed by 2010), according to World Nuclear Association. Ten more nuclear power plants are being planned. (Pakistan is now building two new nuclear reactors, with China's help.)

It is a grave mistake for national energy planners in China and India to be building so many new nuclear power plants. In recent years, both countries have been severely affected by extreme weather associated with global climate change (catastrophic droughts, floods, tornadoes, cyclones, and typhoons), domestic and foreign terrorist attacks, and earthquakes. Any one of these natural disasters or deliberate attacks striking either nuclear reactors or nuclear-waste transport and storage sites could spell potential cataclysmic nuclear disaster for China and India, both being large and densely populated countries. Both countries also have poor records of cleaning up their own sites of past industrial chemical accidents: for example, India has left untouched the Bhopal site after the Union Carbide/Dow pesticide plant's toxic gas leak (releasing 42 tons of methyl isocyanate) on December 3, 1984, which initially killed an estimated 8,000 people within the first two weeks and claiming 8,000 more lives afterwards. With this kind of environmental record, how can people trust their government with building more nuclear power plants?

Let's start with a very brief glimpse of China's water problems associated with climate changed-induced extreme weather events in the past two years (remember, this is a much abbreviated list of extreme weather events):

  • Begun on May 26, 2008, the 20-day torrential rains, floods, and landslides in the 15 provinces of eastern and southern China left more than 200 dead or missing and forced 1.3 million people to evacuate. The damages were estimated at $2.2 billion.
  • In the first three months of 2008, China suffered a devastating drought in Liaoning Province, which left nearly 700,000 people without drinking water; approximately 66 reservoirs dried up, and 1,700 new wells were drilled in a desperate search for drinking water, according to Reuters and Xinhua. Also affected were 19.4 million hectares (48 million acres) of land and 3.3 million hectares (8.15 million acres) of cropland. Water is a serious problem in China: annually about 30 million rural and 20 million urban Chinese face drinking-water shortages.
  • In mid-2008, Shanxi Province was also hit with drought: 560,000 people had no drinking water, according to Xinhua news agency.
  • In mid-2007 in Liaoning, the worst drought in 30 years left more than 8 million people without water; nearly 90 reservoirs dried up and 25,000 wells could no longer supply enough water, and 1.4 million hectares of crops were damaged, according to Xinhua news agency. In Inner Mongolia Province, 870,000 people and 1.5 million livestock had no water (and many livestock died of hunger and thirst).
  • In August 2008, Sichuan Province suffered the worst drought in 50 years, with no rain for more than 70 days: more than 10 million people had no drinking water, and economic losses totaled at least 9.9 billion yuan. Two-thirds of lakes and rivers dried up, and more than 200 reservoirs were extremely low; the Chongqing section of the Yangtze River was lowest in 100 years.

As for India, it has its long list of natural disasters in recent years, of which we briefly list only three, as follows:

  • In August 2008, more than 200 people died (with thousands more missing) and more than half a million people were stranded by the floods in northern India (especially Bihar); an estimated 2.1 million people in the 394 square-mile area were affected by the flood, according to the Bihar government as reported in the New York Times.
  • In 2000, during India's worst drought in 100 years, 50 million people in four states were severely affected. In 2002, it faced another severe drought (the fifth worst drought in its history), which affected 300 million people across 1.8 million square kilometers and almost one-third of its cropland (62 million hectares, which reduced its crop yield by 12 percent), according to the World Bank (report in PDF).
  • In 1999, a Supercyclone with wind gusts up to 190 miles per hour and waves up to 15 feet crashed into the eastern state of Orissa; it left more than 9,500 people dead, 2.5 million homeless, and property damage estimated at $3.5 billion (in 1999 U.S. dollar).

If any one of these extreme weather events had struck a nuclear power plant, nuclear waste in transit, or a nuclear-waste storage facility, then the consequences would have been unimaginable. In addition to climate-related natural disasters, China and India also have their share of separatists, extremist factions, domestic disgruntled groups, and foreign terrorists. They have mounted more violent attacks in recent years. Building more nuclear power plants will concentrate more lethal vulnerabilities into fewer and smaller areas, making it easier for each attack to be transformed into a calamitous nuclear disaster.

Avoiding the Next Catastrophe: Don't Turn Natural Disasters into Nuclear Disasters

Water will become scarcer and more expensive as global climate disruptions exacerbate existing water problems of groundwater and surface water pollution and intensify chronic water shortages worldwide. During the Christmas week of 2008, we witnessed the largest toxic coal ash spill in the U.S. history: more than 1 billion gallons of wet toxic coal ash were spilled across 300 acres and into tributaries of the Tennessee River; tests of river water revealed heavy metals (e.g., arsenic, lead, chromium, and mercury) at 2 to 300 times higher than drinking-water standards. The offender, the Tennessee Valley Authority, disclosed to the New York Times that in just one year, a coal-fired power plant's byproducts include 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium, and 140,000 pounds of manganese. It has been established by decades of medical research that these heavy metals can cause cancer, liver damage, and neurological complications, among other health problems. It is time for our society to engage in discussions of which is more valuable to us: water or electricity. Do we value clean drinking water more, or do we value low-cost electricity more? Do we value aquatic endangered species and pristine watersheds more, or do we value low-cost electricity more?

Nuclear power plants in the United States have two sources of "cataclysmic danger," according to Perrow. The first one is that the stored nuclear waste products, planned for eventual transport and storage for Yucca Flats in Nevada, "which threatened to contaminate vital water supplies." The second one is simply terrifying: "More fearsome in immediate terms is the release of radiation from one of our 104 operating plants because of natural disasters, industrial accidents, or terrorist attacks."

Facing these two calamitous dangers, Perrow also attributes two sources of failures: deregulation in the energy sector in the age of privatization and the downsizing of government; the new one is the consolidation of energy industry, further "magnifying the vulnerability of the bottom line." These two issues simply make nuclear power extremely vulnerable.

The price of electricity generated by nuclear power appears artificially low on paper because the actual costs are underestimated, mispriced, or shifted to society (or individual victims), and so the private utilities and corporate owners of nuclear power plants do not have to pay for the actual cost of producing nuclear energy. If we figure in the true costs of nuclear power (accounting for all the risks, vulnerabilities, and uncertainties), it has the highest of all forms of power; no other types of power has such a staggering scale of risks and frightening vulnerabilities associated with it. (According to NIRS, annual costs per 1,000 kilograms of avoided CO2 emissions are $68.9 for wind power and $132.5 for nuclear power.) The true cost of nuclear power is the one that the society will keep on paying for decades, long after the decommissioning of the nuclear power plants.

Now, let's multiply the existing vulnerabilities of nuclear power with that of climate disruptions and extreme weather. And we haven't even begun yet to discuss the nuclear power plants' risks as highly attractive targets to both domestic and foreign terrorists! The sensible solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not with more nuclear power, but with small, deconcentrated (as opposed to corporate monopolies), and decentralized power systems that can adapt to local conditions.


Energy Provision May Test Priorities. $50 NUCLEAR BAILOUT
Energy Provision May Test Priorities

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 3, 2009; D01

Environmental groups are protesting a proposed $50 billion increase to an existing federal loan guarantee program for "innovative" energy technologies that could expand funding beyond renewable energy to include nuclear power and certain kinds of coal plants.

The proposal is part of the Senate's $884 billion version of the government's stimulus package. It is just one example of the number and size of items buried in the proposal and an illustration of the battles that loom as the House and Senate try to reconcile their proposals.

During its consideration of the stimulus package, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment from Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) that was supported by some leading Democrats including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

Bennett's amendment took $500 million away from $10 billion initially allotted to a new loan guarantee program for renewable energy and electric transmission projects and moved it to an existing loan guarantee program established under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The existing program covers a much wider variety of energy projects, including "advanced nuclear" power plants, plants that "gasify" coal or turn it into liquid form, and plants that capture and bury carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by coal power plants.

Moving the money allows the government to stretch its loan guarantees further. Because of different accounting methods used in the two programs, a $500 million appropriation would permit approximately $5 billion in loan guarantees under the renewable program but $50 billion under the broader, existing program.

The Energy Department has the ability to give out $42.5 billion in loan guarantees under the existing program. But Congress limited the amount that could go to nuclear power plants to $18.5 billion, while setting aside smaller amounts for renewable energy, coal and uranium enrichment. Utilities and power companies have already filed applications for about $122 billion worth of loan guarantees for 21 new nuclear power plants.

The additional loan guarantee authority provided by Bennett's amendment has no restrictions or quotas; more than half a dozen types of projects would qualify. The guarantees are especially important for the nuclear power industry. Without them, it is almost impossible to obtain financing for new nuclear power plants, which have huge capital costs and long construction periods.

Both nuclear supporters and foes are uncertain about how much support to expect from the new Energy secretary, Steven Chu, who is a strong supporter of action on climate change. During his confirmation hearing, Chu pledged to expedite the release of existing loan guarantees, but he avoided any commitment to an aggressive expansion of nuclear power.

Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress, said "this could be a real contentious issue in conference" when House and Senate negotiators try to reconcile the different versions of the stimulus package.

"This is the exact kind of spending President Obama said he didn't want in the recovery package. It will take a lot of time to spend this money and, once you do, it won't create many jobs," he said.

He added that it would take years to design, permit and start building nuclear power projects, and that nuclear power companies were "hoarding these loan guarantees to use at a different time."

Nuclear power proponents maintain that that the nation needs to expand its nuclear power capacity to keep pace with electricity demands and do so in a way that does not add greenhouse gases.

Bennett's ability to leverage the relatively small $500 million into an additional $50 billion of loan guarantees stems from an arcane but important aspect of federal budgeting. Budget rules require the government to set aside a percentage of the amount of loan guarantees to account for the risk that borrowers might default. But Bennett's amendment expands a program that has different rules, effectively allowing the government to set aside a smaller amount than usual, only 1 percent.

Environmental groups yesterday were working on a letter to senators, arguing that the risk of default on the loans for nuclear and coal projects -- and thus the potential cost to taxpayers -- was much higher than that.

"The credit risk to the taxpayer is very significant," said Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club.

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Friday, February 6, 2009






Thursday, February 5, 2009

STATELINE: Congress, states try to harness West winds
Thursday, February 05, 2009

If microwaves in Los Angeles and air conditioners in Chicago are going to run using wind power generated by turbines on the Great Plains, the country is going to need thousand of miles of additional power lines to deliver the electricity.
For that to happen, state and federal leaders are looking at how to conquer imposing obstacles, from mountain ranges to a daunting economy to layers of red tape.
Backers of wind power say the stimulus package now being drafted by Congress — which could help build 3,000 miles of new lines — is a significant start, if only because it would be the first major federal push to improve the electricity transmission system in many years.
But industry experts estimate it will take 19,000 miles of high-voltage lines to handle delivering wind power from prairies to cities and their residents.

Current versions of the stimulus package provide $8 billion to $10 billion in loan guarantees for builders of new power lines and renewable energy projects. The money would help builders get loans from potentially wary lenders.
The proposal also would devote another $4.5 billion to help electric utilities and their consumers upgrade to "smart grid" technologies, which would allow customers who have solar panels on their roofs or small wind turbines to sell extra electricity back to the utility companies when they don't need it. It would also help them lower their bills by keeping track of when they use electricity at off-peak hours, for example, by running their clothes dryers at night.
But the 19-state Western Governors Association stressed the need for different incentives that are not now in the legislation. In a letter (PDF) to congressional leaders sent Jan. 27, the governors pushed for extra money to encourage developers to build higher-capacity lines. Building bigger lines now would avoid the need for multiple small lines in the same area later on, the governors said.
High-capacity lines could avoid higher costs in the long run and problems such as "new environmental impacts, potential land-owner opposition and regulatory delays. State action alone cannot resolve this conundrum," the governors warned.
Construction of new lines isn't just a priority for renewable energy advocates. Ever since 2003, when cascading blackouts cut off power to 50 million people in eight Northeastern states and Canada, there have been calls to upgrade that part of the nation's 200,000-mile grid to avoid similar outages.
But the nationwide push in the 1990s to deregulate electric utilities helped slow the new construction of transmission lines, because it removed incentives to build them. Now that there's renewed interest in building new power lines, states' role in approving the projects is also coming under scrutiny.
Currently, states are largely in charge of deciding where lines can go. But finding an exact path can be difficult.
To link wind farms in Wyoming to California and Seattle, for instance, planners must navigate a path that avoids military installations, wildlife-sensitive areas, national parks, such as Yellowstone, and historic vistas along the Oregon Trail, not to mention natural obstacles like the Rocky Mountains.
And homeland security officials don't want too many lines clustered together, in case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, said Rob Hurless, energy and telecommunications policy advisor to Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D).
States are working together on new interstate power lines, but  they face challenges.
"If you've got wind electrons going from the Dakotas through Iowa to Wisconsin, who pays for (transmitting) those electrons?" asked Roya Stanley, director of the Iowa Office of Energy Independence.
To find a solution, five Midwestern states (Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin) are studying ways to fairly divide the charges among the states' ratepayers.
The Western governors are mounting an effort to identify areas where renewable power (including wind, solar and geothermal energy) is likely to be generated. Then, they'll share the information — along with how much it would likely cost to deliver the power — with utilities interested in buying the electricity.
Utilities in many areas are under pressure to find power from renewable sources, because 24 states have passed laws dictating that a certain amount of electricity must come from the environmentally friendly sources.
Still, renewable sources aren't always in demand. Doug Larson, executive director of the Western Interstate Energy Board, the energy arm of the Western governors group, said an Arizona utility recently passed on buying Wyoming wind power, because there was no guarantee the electricity would be available when Phoenix residents crank up their air conditioners on summer days when the temperature hits triple digits.
"States are doing what they can," to meet the Department of Energy's goal of providing 20 percent of American electricity through wind by 2030, said Robert Gramlich, policy director for the American Wind Energy Association.
But Gramlich and other renewable energy advocates are calling on states to give up some of their power to the federal government to help regulate the new energy programs.
"To get above 5 percent, we need a new regulatory system," Gramlich said. "We're optimistic Congress will turn to that after the stimulus."
David Hamilton, director of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program, said it makes sense for the national government to take a bigger role, especially if more federal taxpayers' money is being used to build the electric grid. But he said the states still play a critical role.
"FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) can't figure out where every prairie dog's going to end up. So how do you build a process that builds trust and not distrust and gives states a real continuing role in where lines are sited, but makes sure lines are sited?" Hamilton asked.
Already, there are complaints about the limited role FERC, an agency in the Energy Department, has taken in trying to clear the way for new high-priority lines.
"A national grid is in the national interest. And I don't think anybody disputes that," U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told Steven Chu, now U.S. secretary of energy, at Chu's Senate confirmation hearing.
"But the Department of Energy has designated the entire state of New Jersey as part of National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor," Menendez said, referring to an area where the federal government could potentially allow lines the state blocked.
Chu said the department should take a "gentler approach" but still needed to have a guiding role.
Contact Daniel C. Vock at

GLOBE: Obama announces new energy guidelines for Appliances
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Obama announces new energy guidelines

Posted by Foon Rhee, deputy national political editor February 5, 2009 12:24 PM

President Obama announced this afternoon that he is issuing a memorandum directing the Energy Department to come up with new guidelines to increase the efficiency of household appliances.

He said that over 30 years, the new guidelines would save the equivalent of the energy produced by all coal-fired plants for 2 years.

Obama called the changes "a significant down payment" on a clean energy future, and promoted the alternative energy components of his economic stimulus package.

The president hit back at critics who label as "pork" the provision to convert the federal vehicle fleet to cleaner, more efficient fuel sources. He said it will save taxpayers money, create jobs, and help the environment.

"Are these folks serious?" he asked of the skeptics.

"Washington may not be ready to get serious about energy independence, but I am," he added.

To read the memorandum, click here.

Obama's full remarks are below:

Thank you so much. Well, it is a thrill to be here. Thank you, Secretary Chu, for bringing your experience and expertise to this new role. And thanks to all of you who have done so much on behalf of the country each and every day here at the department. You know, your mission is so important, and it's only going to grow as we transform the ways we produce energy and use energy for the sake of our environment, for the sake of our security, and for the sake of our economy.

As we are meeting, in the halls of Congress just down the street from here, there's a debate going on about the plan I've proposed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.

This isn't some abstract debate. Last week, we learned that many of America's largest corporations are planning to lay off tens of thousands of workers. Today we learned that last week, the number of new unemployment claims jumped to 626,000. Tomorrow, we're expecting another dismal jobs report on top of the 2.6 million jobs that we lost last year. We've lost half a million jobs each month for the last two months.

Now, I believe that legislation of such magnitude as has been proposed deserves the scrutiny that it has received over the last month. I think that's a good thing. That's the way democracy is supposed to work. But these numbers that we're seeing are sending an unmistakable message -- and so are the American people. The time for talk is over. The time for action is now, because we know that if we do not act, a bad situation will become dramatically worse. Crisis could turn into catastrophe for families and businesses across the country.

And I refuse to let that happen. We can't delay and we can't go back to the same worn-out ideas that led us here in the first place. In the last few days, we've seen proposals arise from some in Congress that you may not have read but you'd be very familiar with because you've been hearing them for the last 10 years, maybe longer. They're rooted in the idea that tax cuts alone can solve all our problems; that government doesn't have a role to play; that half-measures and tinkering are somehow enough; that we can afford to ignore our most fundamental economic challenges -- the crushing cost of health care, the inadequate state of so many of our schools, our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.

So let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about. The American people have rendered their judgment. And now is the time to move forward, not back. Now is the time for action.

Just as past generations of Americans have done in trying times, we can and we must turn this moment of challenge into one of opportunity. The plan I've proposed has at its core a simple idea: Let's put Americans to work doing the work that America needs to be done.

This plan will save or create over 3 million jobs -- almost all of them in the private sector.

This plan will put people to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, our dangerous -- dangerously deficient dams and levees.

This plan will put people to work modernizing our health care system, not only saving us billions of dollars, but countless lives.

This plan will put people to work renovating more than 10,000 schools, giving millions of children the chance to learn in 21st century classrooms, libraries and labs -- and to all the scientists in the room today, you know what that means for America's future.

This plan will provide sensible tax relief for the struggling middle class, unemployment insurance and continuing health care coverage for those who've lost their jobs, and it will help prevent our states and local communities from laying off firefighters and teachers and police.

And finally, this plan will begin to end the tyranny of oil in our time.

After decades of dragging our feet, this plan will finally spark the creation of a clean energy industry that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells, for example -- millions more after that. These jobs and these investments will double our capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years.

We'll fund a better, smarter electricity grid and train workers to build it -- a grid that will help us ship wind and solar power from one end of this country to another. Think about it. The grid that powers the tools of modern life -- computers, appliances, even BlackBerrys -- (laughter) -- looks largely the same as it did half a century ago. Just these first steps towards modernizing the way we distribute electricity could reduce consumption by 2 to 4 percent.

We'll also lead a revolution in energy efficiency, modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the efficiency of more than 2 million American homes. This will not only create jobs, it will cut the federal energy bill by a third and save taxpayers $2 billion each year and save Americans billions of dollars more on their utility bills.

In fact, as part of this effort, today I've signed a presidential memorandum requesting that the Department of Energy set new efficiency standards for common household appliances. This will save consumers money, this will spur innovation, and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy. We'll save through these simple steps over the next 30 years the amount of energy produced over a two-year period by all the coal-fired power plants in America.

And through investments in our mass transit system to boost capacity, in our roads to reduce congestion, and in technologies that will accelerate the development of innovations like plug-in hybrid vehicles, we'll be making a significant down payment on a cleaner and more energy independent future.

Now, I read the other day that critics of this plan ridiculed our notion that we should use part of the money to modernize the entire fleet of federal vehicles to take advantage of state of the art fuel efficiency. This is what they call pork. You know the truth. It will not only save the government significant money over time, it will not only create manufacturing jobs for folks who are making these cars, it will set a standard for private industry to match. And so when you hear these attacks deriding something of such obvious importance as this, you have to ask yourself -- are these folks serious? Is it any wonder that we haven't had a real energy policy in this country?

For the last few years, I've talked about these issues with Americans from one end of this country to another. And Washington may not be ready to get serious about energy independence, but I am. And so are you. And so are the American people.

Inaction is not an option that is acceptable to me and it's certainly not acceptable to the American people -- not on energy, not on the economy, not at this critical moment.

So I am calling on all the members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate -- to rise to this moment. No plan is perfect. There have been constructive changes made to this one over the last several weeks. I would love to see additional improvements today. But the scale and the scope of this plan is the right one. Our approach to energy is the right one. It's what America needs right now, and we need to move forward today. We can't keep on having the same old arguments over and over again that lead us to the exact same spot -- where we are wasting previous energy, we're not creating jobs, we're failing to compete in the global economy, and we end up bickering at a time when the economy urgently needs action.

I thank all of you for being here, and I'm eager to work with Secretary Chu and all of you as we stand up to meet the challenges of this new century. That's what the American people are looking for. That's what I expect out of Congress. That's what I believe we can deliver to our children and our grandchildren in their future.

Thank you so much, everybody. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Image of Tar Sands Still Needs Help, SUN.


It's the duty of opposition politicians to be critical of governments and they usually avoid heaping praise.

So it's often best to take what out-of-power parties say with a grain of salt.

But the Alberta NDP's criticism of the latest provincial moves concerning the oilsands industry should be heeded.

This week, it was announced there would be tougher rules from the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) for toxic oilsands tailing ponds.

The rules say plants must reduce fine particles in the tailings ponds and spell out when their ponds will eventually close.

But NDP Leader Brian Mason rightly pointed out the new regulations still don't go all that far, since there's no clear timeline for closure of the ponds, which made worldwide headlines months ago after 500 migratory ducks landed in one.

"Companies literally have decades to clean up tailings ponds after they use them," said Mason.

When Mason makes the strong comment that Alberta's oil exports and jobs could be at risk because the province hasn't been tough enough on environmental matters, we hope he's off the mark. But he might not be.

There has long been a movement by environmentalists to see Alberta's tarsands boycotted, because producing bitumen consumes huge amounts of water and energy and scars the land with its ponds and open-pit mines.

The images of the ugly operations speak volumes and there's nothing like vivid images to sway public opinion -- just ask anyone connected to Canada's East Coast seal hunt. You can make all the rules you want governing seal hunting but nothing is going to stop the furor over the sight of a furry critter being bludgeoned to death.

These new rules on oilsands tailings ponds don't do anything in the way of cleaning up bitumen's sordid image-- and that's a big public relations problem for Alberta.

Until there's some way to actually get rid of most of the ugly, lake-sized ponds and mine the resource more cleanly and efficiently, we can expect the howls of protest to grow . And those ongoing protests may one day truly threaten Alberta jobs.

PLANETSAVE: Activest ges 21 years in prison for destroying GMO lab
Written by Alex Felsinger
Published on February 5th, 2009

Environmental activist Marie Mason has been sentenced to an unprecidented 21 years in prison for her role in an arson that caused $1 million in damage to a GMO research lab at Michigan State University.

Mason's arrest stemmed from last year's dumpster discovery of personal items and plans that linked to Mason's former husband, Frank Ambrose. Ambrose cooperated with the investigation and received a lighter sentence of 8 years.

The always-insightful Will Potter at Green is the New Red points out that the sentence expected to be handed to four racist men who beat three black teenagers on the night of Obama's election will be roughly half that of Mason's sentence. And Mason caused no physical harm to anyone.

Potter also derided the FBI for warning the press that "eco-terrorist groups" would be present to protest at Mason's trial. In fact, groups like the Earth Liberation Front do not engage in public protests and such a warning does nothing but frighten members of the public away from supporting Mason's cause.

For more information on the continuing "Green Scare," check out Will Potter's beginners guide.

DN! Utah Student Who Thwarted Auction of Utah Wilderness Hails Cancellation of Bush Admin Selloff

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has canceled a controversial last-minute Bush administration attempt to auction off nearly 150,000 acres of wilderness in southern Utah. We speak to university student Tim DeChristopher, who was able to delay the sale by posing as a bidder and buying up thousands of acres.


Naysayer: Global Warming "Shell Games"

Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. He took time this week to answer questions from U.S. Fulbright Fellow Patrick Bell.

1. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the new Chair of the Energy & Commerce Committee, has said he would like to have global warming legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions passed out of committee by Memorial Day. What might be some of the sticking points to following that timeline?

This is a huge undertaking. A bill that would monetize carbon has far reaching consequences. This isn't something to be taken lightly and trying to push something through by holding to an arbitrary date to produce the bill is not responsible. The Energy and Commerce Committee is very diverse in representation. I would hope, and will try my best to encourage, fossil fuel Democrats to protect their own constituents.

2. At the first hearing of the Energy & Commerce Committee during the new Congress, you called cap-and-trade proposals a "shell game." Please expand on what you meant by that.

Cap and Trade is a shell game because it hides what is happening. When you monetize carbon, someone is going to pay for it. Saying it is cap and trade makes people (consumers) believe that big business is paying for it; however, we all know that these businesses will increase utility rates or manufactured goods' prices to pay for this increase in costs. If we want to be intellectually honest, it should be a carbon tax. While I do not support a carbon tax either, it is the only way to be upfront with consumers.

3. What effects do you believe cap-and-trade legislation would have on coal abundant states? Would there be particular negative impacts to your district, or other parts of the Midwest?

It is hard to say what the impact would be. Take the 1990 Clean Air Act. Because of that, Kincaid Mine 10 - in my district now - was closed and all those miners' jobs were lost. What will the impact be of this legislation? I will not be a member who votes for a bill that is going to kill the coal sector of this country; put thousands of people out of work in the middle of a recession; and cause prices on everything sold in this country to go up.

4. With the recent gas crisis in Europe, some countries here are considering reviving their nuclear energy programs. What proposals are there in Congress, if any, to jumpstart America's energy independence using nuclear energy?

I think there will be an increase in the nuclear sector, and I support this. I'm for all sources of energy and look forward to supporting an increase in nuclear. As far as specific proposals, it is a bit early to tell, but there will be some. Nuclear will have to be looked at if a cap and trade policy is implemented.

5. Both California and New Jersey managed to enact strict new carbon capping plans without having the specifics debated by the legislature at all. In both cases, the states passed very vague goals and then left the details to democratically unaccountable bureaucrats. Considering that President Obama has nominated the architect of the New Jersey plan, Lisa Jackson to the EPA, and considering that Obama appointed the author of the key briefs for Mass v. EPA, what are you doing to make sure Obama does not implement cap-and-trade through the regulatory process?

That is a worry to many of us. Should unaccountable bureaucrats be allowed to make these policies? The Energy and Commerce Committee should be involved, and I would imagine the new chairman wants to be, which is why he has set out this deadline. This is a tough balance, between not doing anything or letting the EPA act. It will be my job to protect my constituents.

6. During the record high gas prices of last year, some in Congress blamed the markets and oil companies for the pain at the pump. Are you at all skeptical why some of these same voices are now fully embracing a "market-based mechanism" as the solution for global warming?

I do find it interesting, at the least. If you believe oil can be manipulated as a commodity, certainly carbon could also be manipulated as a commodity. But that doesn't seem to even be a concern now.

Grist: Hansen on Carbon Tax, Stop Coal Now, So Sorry....

James Hansen apologizes to U.K. environmentalists

Posted by Guest author (Guest Contributor) at 12:17 PM on 04 Feb 2009

Read more about: climate | coal | air travel | carbon trading

This is a guest post by noted NASA climate scientist James Hansen.


I have relearned a basic lesson re interviews -- which will have to be fewer and more guarded. I recall giving only one interview to U.K. media this year, but perhaps it was two. One resulting story was that I said the climate problem must be solved in four years -- of course, what I meant to say was that we needed to start moving in a fundamentally different direction during President Obama's first term. CO2 in the air will continue to increase in those four years -- we are not going to take the vehicles off the roads or shut down commerce.

I must have said something dumber in response to a question about air travel. Special apologies to people working in opposition to expansion of Heathrow Airport -- I had no intention of damaging their case. All I intended to say was that aviation fuel is not a killer for the climate problem -- at worst case we can use carbon-neutral biofuels (not current biofuels -- there are ways to do biofuels right, for the fuel volume needed for global air traffic -- ground transport will need a different energy source). When asked about the proposed added runway at Heathrow, I apparently said, in effect, that coal is the (climate) problem, not an added runway -- in any case, what was reported angered a huge number of people, as indicated by my full e-mail inbox. I should have deferred questions on Heathrow to local experts -- I am sure there are many good environmental reasons to oppose airport expansion. I am very sorry that I was not more guarded. You can be sure that in the future I will be more careful to avoid making comments that can be used against good causes. Telling President Obama About Coal River Mountain and the Heathrow Airport runway reminds me how important it is to keep our eye on the ball.

Coal River Mountain is the site of an absurdity. I learned about Coal River Mountain from students at Virginia Tech last fall. They were concerned about Coal River Mountain, but at that time most of them were working to support Barack Obama. They assumed Barack Obama would not allow such outrages to continue.

The issue at Coal River Mountain is whether the top of the mountain will be blown up, so that coal can be dredged out of it, or whether the mountain will be allowed to stand. It has been shown that more energy can be obtained from a proposed wind farm, if Coal River Mountain continues to stand. More jobs would be created. More tax revenue would flow, locally and to the state, and the revenue flow would continue indefinitely. Clean water and the environment would be preserved. But if planned mountaintop removal proceeds, the mountain loses its potential to be a useful wind source.

There are two major requirements for solving the global warming problem:

(1) A rapid phase-out of coal emissions, and (2) a substantial, rising price on carbon emissions. Election night euphoria is subsiding. Now we are in a tricky situation. The President faces enormous tasks, so he must be given time. But directions, once set, are hard to change. Clarity about what is needed is important. Young people (who deserve a large share of credit for helping Obama get the nomination and win the election) had better ask what is happening. The answer, or so it seems: not much. If that impression is right, there had better be a hue and cry soon, or the opportunity for fundamental change may be missed.

Action 1: The important thing needed quickly is a moratorium on new coal. Coal River Mountain is just one example of the idiocy that is proceeding. I am swamped by requests to write letters. Can you believe that Nevada, with all its sunshine, wind and geothermal energy, is going ahead with plans for new coal-fired power plants? So is South Dakota, South Carolina, etc. I could harp about the greenwashed (or worse) politicians, but what is the point of that? Now, given the election that has occurred, it should be possible to solve the problem. Solution is possible, but will it happen? The national government has all the power that it needs to, in effect, declare a moratorium on any new coal plants that do not capture and store the CO2.

Action 2: The other essential action is a rising carbon price. Is Obama going to explain the need for a substantial and rising carbon tax on coal, oil and gas in his first fireside chat? Or will the matter be brushed aside, with a pretense that the world can be moved in a fundamentally different direction by tweaking Kyoto-style approaches? In order to move to the world beyond fossil fuels, there must be a strong economic incentive to do so, and the business community must realize that we mean business. The tax does not have to start out large, though it should be substantial. It has to be a tax that covers all fossil fuels. It should not be a cap-and-trade that allows some carbon to escape and makes Wall Street millionaires on the backs of the public.

Reasons for concern:

1. The big action so far is the indication that the government will demand fuel efficient cars. That is an important action. It will not prevent the world's major oil pools from being used, but efficiency helps buy time, so we can move toward carbon-free vehicle propulsion. Absent improved efficiency, there would be pressure to squeeze oil out of coal, tar shale, etc. -- disasters that must be nipped in the bud. However, note that the vehicle efficiency action will only truly succeed if Action 2 (carbon tax) occurs. Demand for highly fuel efficient vehicles will be limited (not large enough to drive a thriving economy) unless fuel price makes them essential. People will need money in hand to buy them -- one of the reasons for 100 percent dividend (another: the public will not accept a large enough tax if Washington and lobbyists are going to decide where the money goes).

2. Jesse Ausubel makes a case that government policies don't matter much -- the energy-fossil fuel situation determines things. Let's look at data for fossil fuel emissions and the economy:

co2 GDP

Data sources: (top) Marland, G., T.A. Boden, and R.J. Andres. 2008. Global, Regional, and National Fossil Fuel CO2 Emissions. In Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A. (bottom) U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Economic Accounts.

The numbers on these graphs are misleading. Emissions and economic growth in the first year of a President's term probably should be credited to (blamed on) the prior president. In that case the numbers become:

The CO2 emissions support Ausubel's thesis, but the period covered was all business-as-usual. There is such a thing as free will. With coal phase-out and a rising price on carbon emissions, the curve can be changed fundamentally, and move downward fast. But it will not happen as a consequence of "goals" and weak cap-and-trade measures -- and a temporary downturn of emissions due to economic slowdown should not be misinterpreted as fundamental change.


We are only weeks into the Obama administration. But people are getting restive. I have been asked to speak at or support several different actions, in different parts of the country, by young people and not so young. I don't know what to say. I feel that more time must be given. But these people are right -- the directions that are taken now are important. Someone needs to tell President Obama: Coal River Mountain is a symbol of the promise and the hope and the possibilities for a brighter future. As he begins to address the nation's energy, climate and economic challenges, he needs to remember these people, among his core original supporters. They are counting on him to change direction -- a real change.