Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Energy and Global Warming News for January 6: China's Qingyuan seeks to boost US electric car sales

Posted: 06 Jan 2010 09:16 AM PST

Qingyuan seeks to boost electric car sales in US

Tianjin Qingyuan Electric Vehicle Co, the first Chinese automaker to break into the United States, hopes to significantly boost sales of its self-developed electric models in the world's second-largest market this year, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

State-backed Qingyuan is among a growing army of Chinese automakers, including BYD Co partly-owned by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett, eager to tap the fledgling green car sector in mature markets.

Qingyuan hopes to sell 3,000 self-made electric vehicles mostly in the United States in 2010, 50 percent more than what it shipped there in the past five years, the source told Reuters.

It is also seeking opportunities to sell electric vehicles in Europe where regulators have been tightening up emission rules to tackle environmental issues, the source said.

"Qingyuan is rather positive on the outlook of its export business as market potential for green cars in the U.S. and Europe is huge," said the source.

Qingyuan declined to comment.

Other Chinese automakers are also stepping up investment in the green car sector which is poised to take off.

BYD Co — 10 percent controlled by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc has sold several hundred of its plug-in hybrid, F3DM, unveiled in December 2008. It also plans to export its first electric car, the e6, to the United States this year.

Chery Automobile Co, Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp (BAIC) and SAIC Motor Corp among others have unveiled their electric or hybrid models.

France Plans New Version of Carbon Tax

The French government plans to levy a new version of the carbon tax in the second half of this year, a spokesman said Tuesday, after an initial version of the bill was rejected by the country's highest court.

"The new carbon tax will be effective July 1st," Luc Chatel told a press conference after the weekly cabinet meeting.

A previous version of the bill was struck down by the country's Constitutional Council, which ruled that there were too many exemptions to the proposed tax of €17 ($24.5) per metric ton of carbon emitted. That tax was intended to take effect Jan. 1.

The council's decision was an unexpected blow to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who pledged tougher environmental legislation in his 2007 presidential campaign and emphasized climate change in his victory speech after being elected.

He had championed the tax, which would have been the first such sweeping levy introduced in France in the past 20 years.

It was forecast to generate €4.1 billion for the government.

Earlier Tuesday, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde gave the first few clues of how the new draft would differ from the one rejected by the court. Large companies that pollute heavily would be penalized more in the new draft of the bill, but the rates could vary, while exemptions on electricity would be maintained, Ms. Lagarde told Les Echos newspaper in an interview. "We are considering the possibility of applying reduced rates and of setting up other incentive mechanisms," Ms. Lagarde said.

In the draft proposed late last year, the government exempted over 1,000 highly polluting industrial sites, such as power stations, oil refineries and cement works, because they are already subject to a European Union quota system to be progressively put in place from 2013. According to EU rules, emissions at these sites will have to be cut by 21% by 2020.

Capitol Hill loves carbon storage technology. But are lawmakers overlooking risks?

An upcoming Journal of the American Medical Association article finds there are "important and unanswered" questions about risks from carbon capture and storage despite deep political support for the technology aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

House and Senate climate change bills would funnel billions of dollars into helping commercialize technology to capture carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and permanently store it underground.

But in a commentary slated for publication Wednesday, two doctors say health and safety dangers associated with carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS, have not been considered amid promotion of the technology.

The doctors – John Fogarty of the University of New Mexico and Michael McCally of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine – cite asphyxiation risks from accidental large-scale releases.

"The geologic security or permanence of underground carbon dioxide storage over time also has not been well studied," they write. They also cite potential risks to water supplies.

Carbon storage enjoys wide support among lawmakers from coal-producing states and will likely play a major role in any climate and energy legislation that emerges from Capitol Hill.

Coal accounts for half of U.S. power generation and the country enjoys abundant coal supplies. It is also a major source of power in fast-growing industrial powers including China.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has called support for low-emissions coal technologies vital, arguing that even if the U.S. were to move away from use of coal, other nations will continue using the resource.

Chu is hopeful that widespread CCS deployment can begin in eight to 10 years. The recent stimulus law steered $3.4 billion into CCS, and pending Capitol Hill plans would expand support substantially.

Salazar to Toughen U.S. Drilling Rules

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to announce Wednesday that his agency will require oil and natural-gas companies to clear more regulatory hurdles before they are allowed to drill on federal lands.

Mr. Salazar's action is likely to make it more difficult for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to fast-track the permitting of oil and gas projects on federal land. BLM field staffers would be required to seek additional approvals from their supervisors and to undertake more visits to areas where energy companies are seeking access, according to people familiar with the matter.

The BLM manages more than 260 million acres of federal land, and with it, a significant chunk of U.S. energy supplies. Domestic production from federal onshore oil and gas wells accounts for 11% of U.S. natural-gas supplies and 5% of the nation's oil.

The Obama administration is already locked in a bitter fight with the oil and gas industry over proposals to raise billions of dollars in additional taxes from energy companies, and to cap the emissions of gases caused by burning fossil fuels, which have been linked to global warming.

Mr. Salazar's action follows litigation from some environmental groups and criticism from the Government Accountability Office that the BLM has often misinterpreted and violated a 2005 federal law. The legislation was designed to speed oil and gas drilling in the West by allowing federal land managers to waive extensive environmental reviews normally required.

Part of the problem, the GAO said, is that the 2005 law fails to clearly spell out the conditions under which such waivers, or exclusions, can be granted.

Business groups fear the administration's action will discourage domestic energy development, by adding new red tape to the permitting process for oil and gas drilling. In a letter to Mr. Salazar last week, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a lobbying group that represents manufacturers, credited the 2005 law with reducing drilling-permit backlogs and boosting natural-gas production.

"At a time when we should be working to enhance our energy supplies here at home, we believe it would be a mistake to pursue policies that would make it more expensive or difficult to access critical natural-gas resources," the group said. Republican lawmakers also have urged Mr. Salazar not to do away with the practice of granting categorical exclusions altogether, saying better guidance to BLM staff is needed.

"We are concerned that the [U.S.] Department of the Interior is prepared to use a sledgehammer where a scalpel would suffice," four Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, said in a letter to Mr. Salazar last fall.

But some congressional Democrats and environmental groups say the BLM has abused its authority in too many cases, and the rules need to be tightened.

The New Republic: Cap-And-Trade With Campbell's

There are so many different companies trying to influence the shape of climate policy in Washington that it's hard to get a sense for the sheer scale involved. According to the Center for Public Integrity's latest tally, there are now 1,160 businesses and groups wrangling over the issue—and they've hired a whopping 2,780 climate lobbyists. An even better sign of the frenzy is the fact that companies you'd never expect to care about the arcane details of cap-and-trade are now taking a keen interest. Like Campbell Soup and Kellogg:

"It wasn't until we analyzed what was going on in the House that we thought, 'Oh, gosh, we are being affected by this,'" said Kelly Johnston, Campbell Soup's vice president for public affairs, in an interview.

At issue are the free "allowances," or carbon dioxide pollution permits that the House-passed climate bill would give to manufacturers that use a lot of energy to produce internationally traded products, like steel and aluminum. Those energy-intensive industries fighting international competitors successfully lobbied for protection from loss of jobs to China and other cheap-energy countries if the United States unilaterally enacted a carbon reduction program that would make coal-burning more expensive here.

But the House bill's approach means manufacturers that don't use as much energy — like Campbell — would have to bid at auction for carbon emissions allowances from the federal government. Johnston argues that Campbell should either be exempt from that process or provided some freebies, too.

This looks like a fairly important development. Last summer, remember, when Henry Waxman and Ed Markey were cobbling together a climate bill in the House, they struck an intricate balance on how to divvy up the pollution permits under the cap. Some were given away gratis to big polluters or industries at risk of fleeing to China (steel, cement, aluminum, etc.); others were doled out to local electric utilities with the provision that the money would be used to cushion the blow for ratepayers; still other permits were set aside to reduce deforestation or fund new energy sources.

You can read Robert Stavins's detailed breakdown of where all the permits went — he argues that about 20 percent of the permits were pure corporate giveaways, while the rest went to ostensibly public purposes. But the point is that this was all a delicate compromise, and still the bill only barely passed through the House. Now that the bill's wending its way through the Senate, a bunch of new companies have decided to get into the lobbying game and try to force a revision to that formula. Natural-gas producers, for example, feel they got short-shifted by the House. And they have a point. But any new revision also risks alienating the industries that backed the original House bill.

Maldives, China vow to work closely on climate change

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed and the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Tuesday pledged to work closely on climate change and other global issues.

Nasheed said his country appreciated the important and active role played by China in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference held last month.

He said the Maldives is looking forward to strengthening its cooperation with China in dealing with global issues including climate change.

Nasheed said his country respects China's sovereignty and core interests, adding that the Maldives will not do anything that might hurt China's core interests and the two countries' relationship.

Yang said China will continue to work closely with the Maldives on climate change and other issues, promoting the interests of developing countries including those of Small Island Developing States.

The two leaders said they were satisfied with the good relationship between the two countries and pledged to promote the cooperation in the areas of economy, trade, tourism and fishing.

Yang also held talks with Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed in the visit.

Yang arrived here Tuesday afternoon on his way of paying official visits to five African nations and Saudi Arabia. He is expected to leave Maldives Wednesday morning to continue his tour.

Can U.S. skiing be saved?

Posted: 06 Jan 2010 08:28 AM PST

Human-caused global warming doesn't turn January into July, and so it's no surprise we've got lots of snow now.  The anti-science crowd keeps confusing precipitation with temperature, seeing almost any snowstorm as evidence we're not warming (see "Was the "Blizzard of 2009″ a "global warming type" of record snowfall — or an opportunity for the media to blow the extreme weather story (again)?").  In fact, since climate change will keep bringing more precipitation to certain regions, many northern ski areas will probably have lots of snow for the foreseeable future.  But most major U.S. ski resorts would be devastated if we keep on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions (see Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year — and that isn't the worst case, it's business as usual!).  This CAP repost looks at some impacts on and actions by the ski industry.  The AP photo is a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine built by Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock, MA.

The ski industry could be in big trouble if climate change continues unabated, and leaders in the industry are taking steps to make their resorts more sustainable while educating their guests.

Take Aspen, for instance. The resort is already seeing a gradual increase in frost-free days and warmer nights, according to Mike Kaplan, CEO of Aspen Skiing Company, and aspen trees are dying off in large numbers. A study by the Aspen Global Change Institute forecasts that if global carbon emissions continue to rise, Aspen will warm by 14 degrees by the end of this century—giving it a feel similar to Amarillo, TX.

In Utah, a consultant's report released by the nonprofit Park City Foundation this fall predicts that the decrease in snowpack caused by global warming could lead to 1,100 jobs lost by 2030 and a $120 million economic loss in Park City alone. The town is home to three ski resorts and represents a share of the $1 billion that ski resorts bring to the state each year.

Ski executives understand the threat and are taking steps. Aspen is increasing its energy efficiency and reliance on renewable energy by installing solar energy systems. And Massachusetts resort Jiminy Peak installed a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine that generates 33 percent of its electricity demands.

Kaplan and others, including Steve Rendle, CEO of The North Face, are keen to get the word out about climate change's effect on skiing and outdoor sports. They maintain, however, that these efforts are not enough, and they argue for a global and national climate and energy policy, not just out of concern for the planet, but for their businesses, as well. California's ski industry was one of the first groups to support legislation requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 emission levels by 2020.

Skiers and snowboarders can help lower the carbon footprint of their sport through their choices in gear and travel. Colorado's Venture Snowboards runs entirely on wind power, and Burton offers snowboards made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and recycled materials. There's also vegetable-based snowboard wax and organic skiwear. Used gear can be recycled or donated to the Salvation Army or organizations such as SWAG. If you're not a regular skier or snowboarder, renting gear from the resort pro shop or a friend is a good choice.

Most people are forced to use SUVs or other gas guzzlers to climb the mountains to resorts, but many ski and snowboard shops such as Emilio's in New York City run shuttle services straight to the slopes from the city. Some train lines on the East Coast will drop you off in free resort shuttle bus territory. If not, you can carpool, which is now easier to do with Facebook applications and resorts such as California's Kirkwood, which provides its own carpool service, the K-Pool.

The nonprofit Ski Area Citizen's Coalition runs an online community that assesses the environmental performance and policies of resorts in the United States and Canada. Concerned skiers, snowboarders, and conservationists can sign up and help keep track of how resorts are faring or search the site to see where to find the closest environmentally responsible resort.

National and global climate policies would take the biggest step toward cutting the emissions that endanger the ski industry. But those who enjoy the sport and want to see it preserved can do something now. They'd be joined by the major players in the business who are already working to keep the slopes covered in powder well into the future.

JR:  Having lived near Aspen for 2 years while working with Amory Lovins, I can attest to the devastation from the bark beetle, even if the media has been slow to make the link to climate change (see "Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can't tell the story (twice!), how will the public hear it?")

Related Posts:

Stavins on Another Copenhagen Outcome: Serious Questions About the Best Institutional Path Forward

Posted: 06 Jan 2010 05:14 AM PST

This guest post by Robert Stavins, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, was first published here.

Whether you like it or not, for the time being the most important product of the December meeting in Copenhagen of the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the "Copenhagen Accord," which I assessed in my December 20th blog post ("What Hath Copenhagen Wrought?").  In the long term, however, it is quite possible that another outcome of the December meetings may prove to be equally or more consequential.  I'm referring to the decreased credibility of the UNFCCC as the major institutional venue for international climate policy negotiation and implementation.

One has to be cautious about taking too seriously some of the assertions that have been made in the printed press and the blogosphere about the death of the UNFCCC, partly because many of those commentaries come from people in the press and NGOs who – like me – suffered in Copenhagen because of the terrible logistics provided by the UNFCCC, which kept thousands of people standing outside in the bitter cold for 8 hours waiting to receive their credentials (for which they had been pre-registered) only to be turned away from the Bella Center.  I've written about that in my December 18th blog post (Chaos and Uncertainty in Copenhagen?).  However, the problems with the UNFCCC that became so apparent in Copenhagen are more fundamental than the logistical failures.

Problems with the UNFCCC Process

The two weeks of COP-15 illustrated four specific problems, most of which were apparent long before the Copenhagen meetings.  First, the UNFCCC process involves too many countries – about 196 at last count — to allow anything of real significance to be achieved.  As my colleague, Professor Jeffrey Frankel, observed in a panel session in which he and I participated at the ASSA meetings in Atlanta, "it's difficult enough to reach agreement in a room with 30 people, let alone close to 200."  What is particularly striking about involving 196 parties in the discussion of international climate change policy is the reality that just 20 of them account for about 90% of global emissions!

The second problem – again, illustrated in spades at the Copenhagen sessions – is that the UN culture tends to polarize many discussions into two factions:  the developed world versus the developing world.  This is troubling, because the world is much more diverse than such a dichotomous distinction would suggest.  Clearly, emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, Korea, Mexico, and South Africa have more in common – along some key economic dimensions – with some countries in the so-called developed world than they do with the poorest developing countries, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa.

The third problem is that the voting rules of the UNFCCC process require consensus for nearly all decisions, that is, unanimity.  It was lack of unanimity, by the way, which resulted in the Conference not "adopting" the Copenhagen Accord, but rather "noting" it.  After all, only 190 of 196 countries voted to adopt it.  Six nations voted in opposition, ironically accusing the 190 of "undemocratic procedures:"  Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Sudan, Tuvalu, and Venezuela.

Fourth and finally, the UNFCCC leadership in Copenhagen was – to phrase it politely – problematic, not only administratively, but substantively as well, according to delegates from a diverse set of countries.

These problems (as well as others on which readers will probably comment) have caused many observers (as long as eight to ten years ago in the case of some academic economists and political scientists) to question whether the UNFCCC is the best institutional venue for productive negotiations and action on global climate change policy, or at least whether it ought to be the sole venue.  So, what are the possible alternatives?

Potential Alternative or Supplementary Institutional Venues

One promising venue was initiated in 2007 by the Bush administration as the "Major Emitter Meetings" – the "MEM process."  It was roundly condemned by environmental advocacy groups and by many supporters of the UNFCCC process.  Greenpeace labeled it a "dead-end diversion" – "an attempt by the Bush Administration to deflect international criticism on their do nothing attitude on climate change."  Whether or not that was the Bush administration's cynical motivation, the fact remains that it was a sensible venue for discussion.

Fortunately, the Obama administration recognized that this was a promising approach, adopted it, changed its name to the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, and continued the process, now commonly referred to as the "MEF."  Several meetings have taken place – in Washington, Paris, and Mexico City – bringing together Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  Those 17 countries and regions account for about 90% of global emissions.  The U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, Michael Froman, chairs the meetings.  Naturally, some nations (and some advocates) are concerned about a small set of large countries reaching decisions; and no doubt some are not comfortable with a process chaired by the United States.

Another conceivable institutional venue would be the G-20, the "Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors," established in 1999 to bring together the leading industrialized and developing economies to discuss key issues.  They recently turned their attention to climate change policy (in Pittsburgh in September, 2009).  The make-up of this group is similar to that of the MEF, but there are differences:  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  For some people, the good news about the G-20 playing a key role as a venue for negotiations is the presence of economic thinking; of course, this is precisely what troubles many others.

No doubt, there are other conceivable multilateral negotiations that could be convened, as well as bilateral approaches, including, of course, ongoing talks between China and the United States.

Don't Nail Shut the Coffin

Anyone who predicts the death of the UNFCCC is probably letting their hopes infect their prognostication.  It is simply much too soon for obituaries for this important and quite durable institution.

The Kyoto Protocol continues at least until the end of its first commitment period, that is, through 2012.  The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and annual national reporting functions (such as those that are key parts of the Copenhagen Accord) are likely to work through the United Nations, most likely the UNFCCC.

Also, the UNFCCC has a very large constituency of support, including at a minimum most, if not all, of the G-77 group of developing countries, which actually numbers much closer to 140.  In addition, the UNFCCC has tremendous international legitimacy, and is potentially key for implementation, no matter what the venue may be for initial negotiation.

The Path Forward

Whether the next steps in international deliberations should be under the auspices of the UNFCCC or some smaller deliberative body, such as the MEF or the G-20, is an important and open question.  Given the necessity of achieving consensus in the United Nations processes as currently defined and the open hostility of a small set of countries, other bilateral and multilateral discussions could be an increasingly attractive route, at least over the short term.

There are many questions, however, that need to be addressed before anyone can identify the best institutional venue (or venues) for international climate negotiations and action.  Such questions are now among the major foci of research by the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements.  More about this in future posts.

Related Post:

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) to retire also

Posted: 06 Jan 2010 05:08 AM PST

Embattled Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd (D) has scheduled a press conference at his home in Connecticut Wednesday at which he is expected to announce he will not seek re-election, according to sources familiar with his plans.

Unlike the announcement yesterday of Sen. Dorgan (D-ND) to retire, this greatly increases Dem chances of holding the seat:

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is widely expected to step into the void filled by Dodd and, at least at first blush, should drastically increase Democrats' chances of holding the seat.

Blumenthal, who has served as state Attorney General since 1990, is the most popular politician in the state and has long coveted a Senate seat; he had already signaled that he would run for the Democratic nomination against Sen. Joe Lieberman(I) in 2012….

Without Dodd as a foil, Republicans chances of taking over a seat in this solidly blue state are considerably diminished. Former Rep. Rob Simmons and wealthy businesswoman Linda McMahon are battling it out for the Republican nod but either would start as an underdog in a general election matchup with Blumenthal.

Dodd is a good Senator from a reliably Democratic state, but got tangled up by his presidential ambitions — he moved his family to Iowa "in the fall of 2007 in hopes of generating some excitement for his bid. The move backfired on the Democratic incumbent as many Connecticut voters bristled" — and the possibility received a favorable mortgage and the fallout of the financial crisis.

Toles on the tough job of being a Senator

Posted: 06 Jan 2010 04:59 AM PST

People think you were elected to address more than one serious national problem a year!

Breaking: Sen. Dorgan (D-ND) to retire

Posted: 05 Jan 2010 04:14 PM PST

Sen. Byron Dorgan, a 18-year veteran Democrat, dropped a late-day bombshell, announcing he will retire when his term ends this year.  Dorgan's announcement represents an opportunity for Republicans: North Dakota is a Republican-leaning state, where President Obama got just 45% of the vote last year.

What's bad news for the Dems in the longer term could be good news for the climate bill in the short term.  Nate Silver had given Dorgan a "Probability of Yes" vote of 22%.  He was certainly going to be among the 5 toughest Dem votes to get.

But now he doesn't face a tough reelection, and the Senator from the state he himself calls "the Saudi Arabia of wind" is free to vote his conscience.  Indeed, all things being equal, I think he'd like to vote 'yes' — see post "When Sen. Dorgan finds out what's in the climate bill — hint, hint, White House — he might just support it," which I'll excerpt and update here:

In July, Dorgan published an op-ed in The Bismarck Tribune with contents that mostly suggests he might actually be a real fence-sitter and filibuster buster if somebody actually explained the bill to him and worked to address his concerns — and if he didn't have to worry about reelection.

Indeed, the sole objections he raises to the bill — the potential for Wall Street to engage in questionable derivatives tradings and speculative bubbles that might drive the price of CO2 soaring — are actually addressed in Waxman-Markey by multiple provisions (as I discuss here).  As an important aside, it would be almost impossible to write a bill reducing CO2 emissions that would not lead to "derivatives," which, after all, include futures contracts and options.

If you are going to create a CO2 price — really the only way of reducing CO2 other than mandatory, command-and-control, sector-based emissions regulations (which it is impossible to believe Dorgan supports) — then Wall Street is going to create futures and options to allow companies to mitigate risk.  And that's a very good thing, as even conservative economists will tell you.

The only question is whether you design a system with checks and balances against fraudulent derivatives and speculation, which the House bill does and which the Senate bill will no doubt improve.

Now, you might say that Dorgan isn't interested in a real bill, that he is just positioning himself for a "no" vote.  Well, if so, he has written a very strange op-ed.  Let me excise all the "railing against Wall Street" stuff, and see for yourself:

I'm in favor of taking action to reduce CO2 emissions and to protect our environment….

I support capping carbon emissions. But it has to be done the right way, with targets and timelines that allow us to accomplish our goals without driving the cost of energy for homeowners and businesses out of sight…..

I'm willing to cap carbon to address the threat to our environment. But it has to be done right. I will support a plan that establishes workable caps, invests in technology to decarbonize fossil fuels and sends the majority of the revenue raised to consumers to offset increases in the price of electricity resulting from the caps.

Energy is an important part of our lives. We need to work to decarbonize the use of coal so that we can use our most abundant fossil energy resource. We have to maximize the development of renewable energy. Green, renewable energy protects our environment and it also makes us less dependent on foreign oil (70 percent of our oil comes from other countries).

Here's what we need to do to protect our environment and make us less dependent on foreign oil:

1. Establish caps on carbon that are accompanied by both adequate research and development funding and reasonable timelines for implementation to develop and commercialize technologies that will greatly reduce the CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

Well, that's certainly Waxman-Markey.  You can't argue the targets are too tough or that the bill doesn't spend tens of billions of dollars on technology development or deployment.  In fact, as Waxman's summary explains, the bill "Invest[s] in new clean energy technologies and energy efficiency, including energy efficiency and renewable energy ($90 billion in new investments by 2025), carbon capture and sequestration ($60 billion), electric and other advanced technology vehicles ($20 billion), and basic scientific research and development ($20 billion)" — see "A useful summary of Waxman-Markey."

2. Use the majority of the revenue from a plan that caps CO2 to provide refund payments to those who would otherwise experience increased energy costs.

Again, that's Waxman-Markey (see Robert Stavins: "The appropriate characterization of the Waxman-Markey allocation is that more than 80% of the value of allowances go to consumers and public purposes, and less than 20% to private industry." and UPDATED exclusive report: Preventing windfalls for polluters but preserving prices — Waxman-Markey gets it right with its allocations to regulated utilities).

3. Even as we continue to decarbonize the use of fossil energy, we should maximize the production of renewable energy from wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and more.

4. Set an ambitious renewable electricity standard (RES) along with longer-term tax incentives for the wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy.

5. To move this new energy, we need to build a transmission system to allow us to produce renewable energy where we can, and move it to the load centers where it is needed.

Check, check, and check.  Ironically, the Senate energy bill is weaker than the House on the RES, so presumably Dorgan will vote to strengthen it on the Floor.  And yes, the House RES cannot be called "ambitious" anymore, but that's in large part thanks to the huge push on renewable energy in the stimulus (see "EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus! Now can we get a stronger renewable standard?").

6. To reap the benefits of cleaner energy and reduced dependence on foreign oil, we need to move toward using electricity to fuel our transportation fleet.

That's already in Waxman-Markey (and was in the stimulus). Love to do more, Senator.

North Dakota and the nation have a lot at stake in this debate. We are a major energy-producing state, with our ability to produce large quantities of oil and our large deposits of coal, which is our country's most abundant form of energy. We have the greatest wind energy potential of any state, and we have the ability to produce a large quantity of biofuels.

It's clear we are going to have to use energy differently in the future to protect our planet. And to do that I will support a plan that puts achievable caps on CO2 emissions – if it is done the right way.

If that were his entire op-ed, you'd say he was at least 50-50 for the bill and certainly would be a realistic possibility for voting against a filibuster, like Sherrod Brown (D-OH).  But he rails at length against Wall Street speculators and derivatives.  Yet, his  concerns about speculators and market fraud — which Mississippi Governor (and global warming denier/delayer) Haley Barbour has been playing up, along with James Hansen and Robert Shapiro — are ones that the authors of Waxman-Markey were quite aware of when they wrote the bill.

That's why the bill has many provisions (and realities) that would stop "a financial meltdown from speculators trading frantically in the permits and their derivatives," as Hansen put it, or someone cornering the market, as Barbour put it.

First off, the permit market is huge.  Even purchasing 2% of the permits in, say, 2015, would probably cost $1 billion.  And speculators would have to purchase several times that to significantly run up the price.

Second, it will be so easy to meet the targets for at least the first decade (see here) that the "real" price of a permit will probably be slightly below the auction price (which has a floor).  So it will be highly unprofitable to buy lots of permits, which would run up the price, in an effort to make money selling those permits sometime in the future.  I can't imagine a plausible scenario in which this would make economic sense for any entity even if they could get away with it, which they cannot.

Third, the bill requires EPA to promulgate regulations to cover the auction.  As CQ's summary of the bill explains:

  • Bidders must disclose all parties sponsoring their bids;
  • Individual bidders would be limited to purchasing up to 5% of allowances sold at any quarterly auction;
  • EPA would have to publish information about winning bidders

So it would be very difficult to do any major purchasing in secret and virtually impossible to acquire a large fraction of the permits.

Fourth, the bill has a whole section devoted to "Carbon Market Assurance."  As the WRI summary describes it:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is given regulatory authority over allowance and offset markets and allowance derivative markets (Sec. 761, pg. 449). The President is also delegated authority to instruct agencies to take on pieces of market regulation based on existing authority as long as regulations are consistent with this section. The draft makes it a federal crime to commit fraud or manipulate any carbon market. In addition, the regulations facilitate and maintain market oversight and transparency and require market monitoring to prevent fraud, manipulation and excessive speculation.

That section explicitly includes derivatives, with further oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Fifth, the bill has a Strategic Reserve (with tons originally skimmed off from each year's total target) that an entity can purchase permits from if the price sees a short-term run up of about 60%.  So again the bill will is designed to prevent someone from cornering the market or running up the price.

So these concerns, while potent from a populist perspective, are simply not a reason to oppose this bill if one supports the general goal of a shrinking cap that doesn't force reductions down at an alarming pace, does mitigate most of the price risk to consumers, does spend many tens of billions of dollars on clean energy development, demonstration, and deployment, and promotes renewables (albeit not enough) and electrifying transportation system.

I expect the Senate bill will be even tougher in this arena — perhaps aided by a new financial services oversight bill — since that will be needed to get the vote of other senators with similar concerns (see "Cantwell, Collins join bipartisan call for market-based carbon pricing to achieve shrinking cap on carbon").

So let's say for now that Dorgan is 50-50 or better to vote for the final bill — and maybe higher for at least cloture.  After all, what possible reason could he give to support a filibuster?

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Yes, the atmospheric CO2 fraction has risen at a dangerously fast rate in the past 160 years, reaching levels not seen in millions of years

Posted: 05 Jan 2010 12:48 PM PST

Once upon a time in a galaxy not very far away there was some scientific research that found the global carbon sinks (oceans, soils, vegetation) were not saturating — assuming, of course, that its general methodology and simplifying assumptions were in fact correct.

The research, by Wolfgang Knorr, had a title that tried to do too much in too few words:  "Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?"   And so when the American Geophysical Union published this interesting-if-true study, it issued a press release with the catastrophically wrong headline, "No rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide fraction in past 160 years."

As an aside, Joseph Pulitzer's "standing order to his staff" of reporters was:  ACCURACY. TERSENESS. ACCURACY.  For science reporting, you probably need to drop "terseness."  My motto is "better a long headline, than a wrong headline"  — especially since a large fraction of people never go much beyond the headline, even more especially in the internet age, where the headline can truly take on a life of its own.

Now it's kind of scary this particular headline got through whatever editors AGU uses, since it is directly at odds with what is arguably the single most famous chart of observational data in the entire climate arena, the Keeling Curve of "Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2)":

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) - Mauna Loa or Keeling curve (map/graphic/illustration)

In fact, not only has the atmospheric CO2 fraction (i.e. concentration) risen sharply in recent decades, it has risen at a rate that is unprecedented in the past million years (see "Humans boosting CO2 14,000 times faster than nature, overwhelming slow negative feedbacks").  As the author of 2008 study on this subject noted, "the average change in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last 600,000 years has been just 22 parts per million by volume." Humans have run up CO2 levels 100 ppm over the last two centuries! The author added, ""Right now we have put the system entirely out of equilibrium."

And that makes this a truly scary fable (see Science: CO2 levels haven't been this high for 15 million years, when it was 5° to 10°F warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher — "We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in CO2 levels of about 100 ppm.").

Back to our story.  The bad headline was then picked up by Science Daily, as is their wont:

[They later quietly fixed it, after being beaten up by the likes of Micheal Tobis and RealClimate -- but how about printing some sort of apology/explanation?]

The anti-science gang leaped all over themselves to turn this story into a real fairy tale — without the benefit of actually having read and/or understood this study and/or, apparently, even the press release.  Ken Ward Jr. of the WV Charleston Gazette did a great debunking of one such piece of muddled nonsense by the Charleston Daily Mail's Don Surber, who declared on his blog that he had discovered "The Final Nail in the Global Warming Coffin," ending "You can fool all of the people some of the time — and some of the time is all Al Gore needed to make a pile of money."

You can in fact fool some of the people all of the time, as the professional deniers prove every day.  Ward then notes that in an editorial published yesterday, the Daily Mail summarized Knorr's study this way:

Then there is the contention by Wolfgang Knorr of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol in England that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are about where they were 160 years ago.

Seriously.  And they still haven't retracted this egregious blunder.

For the spin by a true extremist, see "Climate Change Fanatics Shocked as New Scientific Paper Reveals Zero Atmospheric Carbon Increase."


Knorr's study is, of course, only about whether the fraction of human-emitted CO2 that stays in the atmosphere — the "airborne fraction — changes over time.  He finds that it hasn't.  His work is at odds with work by Le Quéré and more than two dozen colleagues as part of the Global Carbon Project.  For an open-access paper led by the GCP, see Canadell et al., "Contributions to accelerating atmospheric CO2 growth from economic activity, carbon intensity, and efficiency of natural sinks."

The GCP seem to me to be doing a much more impressive and thorough job of looking at all the data and analyzing it.  Here's what they find:

Between 1959 and 2008, 43% of each year's CO2 emissions remained in the atmosphere on average; the rest was absorbed by carbon sinks on land and in the oceans. In the past 50 years, the fraction of CO2 emissions that remains in the atmosphere each year has likely increased, from about 40% to 45%, and models suggest that this trend was caused by a decrease in the uptake of CO2 by the carbon sinks in response to climate change and variability. Changes in the CO2 sinks are highly uncertain, but they could have a significant influence on future atmospheric CO2 levels. It is therefore crucial to reduce the uncertainties.

Skeptical Science has an excellent analysis of the issue and these papers, "Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?"  I must confess, though, that headline remains too opaque for the general reader.  I'd prefer something simpler and clearer, like "Are the carbon sinks saturating or not."   SS notes that if the answer is no, it's not really the "bombshell" WattsUpWithThat claims it is:

The 2007 IPCC verdict on the airborne fraction was "There is yet no statistically significant trend in the CO2 growth rate since 1958 …. This 'airborne fraction' has shown little variation over this period." (IPCC AR4) I'm not sure the move from "not much happening" "to "still not much happening" warrants the label "bombshell".

It is a tricky calculation with large uncertainties, especially the farther you go back in time, since we have less accurate measurements in key areas:

The airborne fraction is calculated from the rate of human CO2 emissions and changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration. The global increase in atmospheric CO2 has been directly measured since 1959 and can be calculated from ice cores for earlier periods. Primarily, CO2 emissions come from fossil fuel combustion with a lesser contribution from land use changes. Fossil fuel combustion is calculated from international energy statistics. CO2 emissions from land-use changes are more difficult to estimate and come with greater uncertainty. Land use emissions are estimated using deforestation and other land-use data, fire observations from space and carbon cycle modeling.

The emissions from land-use change (LUC) are especially tough because there are so many hard-to-measure factors, include CO2 uptake and loss from the soils.  As the GCP explains:

Emissions from LUC are the second-largest anthropogenic source of CO2. Deforestation, logging and intensive cultivation of cropland soils emit CO2. These emissions are partly compensated by CO2 uptake from the regrowth of secondary vegetation and the rebuilding of soil carbon pools following afforestation, abandonment of agriculture (including the fallow phase of shifting cultivation), fire exclusion and the shift to agricultural practices that conserve soil carbon. Unlike fossil fuel emissions, which reflect instantaneous economic activity, LUC emissions are due to both current deforestation and the carry-over effects of CO2 losses from areas deforested in previous years.

Knorr makes a few simplifying assumptions about LUC which may or may not be correct, including this remarkable statement:

Another finding is that reducing the land use emissions by a scalar causes total emissions to be more consistent with a model of a constant airborne fraction…  The analysis also shows that recent trends after 2000 can be explained by re-scaling land use emissions within their uncertainty ranges.

I'd welcome a comment from an expert on this tricky arena of modeling net CO2 emissions from LUC, but it certainly looks like Knorr has to change his scale factor over the past decade to get a consistent answer.  That does not, of course, mean he's wrong, but again GCP and Le Quéré et al. seem to me to be doing a much more comprehensive job of trying to model this.

SS notes:

There are several differences in methodology between Knorr 2009 and Le Quere 2009. Knorr's result does not include the filtering for ENSO and volcanic activity employed by Le Quéré. However, when Knorr does include this filtering in his analysis, he finds a trend of 1.2 ± 0.9% per decade. This is smaller than Le Quere's result but is statistically significant.

Knorr also finds the 150 year trend while Le Quéré looks at the last 50 years. This may be significant. If the airborne fraction is increasing, it is possibly a recent phenomenon due to natural carbon sinks losing their absorption ability after becoming saturated. Several studies have found recent drops in the uptake of CO2 by oceans (Le Quere 2007, Schuster 2007, Park 2008). However, with such a noisy signal, this is one question that will require more data before being more fully resolved.

If we're seeing the saturation of the ocean carbon sink, it looks to be a relatively recent phenomena.  After 10 years and more than 90,000 ship-based measurements of CO2 absorption in the North Atlantic, University of East Anglia researchers reached this stunning conclusion in 2007:

CO2 uptake halved between the mid-90s and 2000 to 2005.

In general, it would be awesome news if the sinks weren't saturating.  Many major climate models predict that they will — and, even worse, that some sinks will become major sources — leading to various positive or amplifying feedbacks:

Needless to say, this would complicate efforts to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at levels needed to preserve a livable climate and makes action now all the more urgent.


The moral of our fable is write better headlines and read the whole damn press release and paper before writing about it.  And since this is a fable for our times, what better way to end than with a talking bunny, Dr. Rabett, providing a version for children of all ages on Tobis's "Only In It For The Gold":

There is a very simple way to put it:

We know the amount of CO2 emitted by us per year (pretty well) Call it X.

We know the amount of this CO2 that stays in the atmosphere (the rest goes into the oceans and the biological bits of the land). That is, for reasonable purposes X/2 or 50%.

That means that 50% of the CO2 that we emitted each year remains in the atmosphere.

The question is whether the fraction is changing. Maybe only 48% is absorbed and 52% remains in the atmosphere.

Knorr says the fraction is not changing. Canadell says the fraction remaining in the atmosphere is increasing.

Canadell is really serious trouble. Knorr is only serious trouble.

Lindsey Graham censured again by SC county party for trying to create clean energy jobs in the state, clean its air and reduce the nearly $1 billion a day we ship overseas to buy oil, "some of which finds its way to extremist or terrorist organizations."

Posted: 05 Jan 2010 10:47 AM PST

Sen. Lindsey Graham has frustrated grassroots conservatives in his home state for years.The Lexington County Republican Party in South Carolina voted late Monday to censure Sen. Lindsey Graham for his positions on several controversial issues, including his recent support for a compromise on cap-and-trade legislation.

The Lexington GOP is now the second county party organization in a matter of months to censure Graham after Charleston County leaders approved a similar resolution in November. But unlike Charleston County, Lexington is one of the most conservative counties in South Carolina and is considered a bellwether of Republican sentiment in the state.

CNN Politics reported yesterday on GOP efforts in SC to make averting catastrophic global warming and promoting clean energy jobs a litmust test.  This doubly self-destructive trend is nothing new (see Honey, I shrunk the GOP, Part 3: RNC Chair Steele withdraws support for Rep. Kirk over his vote on climate and clean energy bill).

CNN Politics ran this caption on its photo of Graham above), "Sen. Lindsey Graham has frustrated grassroots conservatives in his home state for years."   That's pretty scary considering Graham has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 89.79.  Graham is an ACU "Senate Standout," among the 20 most conservative U.S. Senators in 2008!  Just how right-wing do you have to be not to frustrate grassroots conservatives??  They'd have impeached Reagan for agreeing to save the ozone layer!

If you read this profile of Graham, then you'll know that these attacks are not likely to move him.  Indeed, he knows that he bipartisan climate and clean energy bill would be very good for South Carolina and the nation:

"I believe the green economy is coming.  That's not a question of if it's going to happen, it's just when it's going to happen.  The sooner the better for me, because the jobs of the future lie in energy independence and cleaning up the environment….  Why can't America have the cleanest air?"

But that's not the way the far right see it, as CNN reported:

The measure passed by a 13-7 vote after more than an hour of debate, according to Lexington County GOP chairman Rich Bolen. Four party members, including Bolen, abstained.

Along with criticizing his cap-and-trade support, Monday's censure resolution also rapped Graham for his vote in favor of the 2008 financial bailout and his outspoken support of immigration reform.

The grassroots activists who generally make up county party organizations have never been enthusiastic about their senior senator, who has frequently crossed party lines to work with Democrats in the Senate.

The language in Monday's censure resolution makes that sentiment clear. The measure criticizes Graham for failing to abide by the principles of the South Carolina GOP platform and accuses him of showing "contempt and belligerence" toward his fellow Republicans.

It's going to be an epic struggle this year in the Senate — more on that later.

The bottom line for now, though, is that if Graham ain't pure enough for the Palin crowd, the party is gonna have troubles (see Honey, I shrunk the GOP, Part 4: Moderate GOP candidate yields to angry conservative. Gingrich says if this keeps up, "we'll make Pelosi speaker for life and guarantee Obama's re-election.")

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Energy and Global Warming News for January 5: Study finds Michigan's plan to fight climate change would also boost state economy; Wind farms could create thousands of new Nebraska jobs — NREL

Posted: 05 Jan 2010 10:30 AM PST

Independent study says Michigan's plan to fight climate change also would boost state economy

Michigan could gain a significant economic boost and thousands of new jobs by reducing emissions of gases that cause climate change, according to an analysis released Monday.

The report by the Center for Climate Strategies said a plan devised last year for battling global warming in Michigan would help limit the state's heat-trapping gas emissions over the next 15 years.

But more than the environment would benefit, the nonprofit group said. It projected gains of 129,000 jobs, a $25 billion uptick in the gross state product and lower prices for home energy sources such as electricity, oil and natural gas.

"This study validates our commitment to energy efficiency and renewable sources of fuel," said Steven Chester, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. "It's the right thing to do for a healthy environment and a healthy economy."

Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2007 established the Michigan Climate Action Council, consisting of academic experts and representatives of industry, environmental groups and government agencies.

The council last February recommended 54 steps to reduce the state's contribution to climate change. Most involved greater use of alternative energy and stepped-up efficiency in manufacturing, farming, transportation and other sectors.

The panel recommended an outside analysis of the potential effect on Michigan's economy. The DEQ secured a $75,000 grant from the Troy-based Kresge Foundation for the study.

Economists with Michigan State University and the University of Southern California teamed with the Center for Climate Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that has helped more than 20 states develop programs to fight global warming.

Michigan began taking steps in that direction in 2008 with legislation requiring that 10 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable sources within seven years. It also ordered utilities to become more efficient.

The climate action plan calls for additional steps, such as greener building construction, greater use of rail transport, more recycling and urban tree plantings.

The study concluded that, combined with actions already under way, the climate action plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to more than 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2025.

While acknowledging a lower-carbon economy would eliminate some jobs, the study predicted a net gain of 129,000 as alternative energy producers expand.

"It's important to note that there will be winners and losers, but for the state as a whole this is a win-win and a significant one," said Tom Peterson, CEO of the climate center.

Wind farms could create thousands of new Nebraska jobs

Harnessing Nebraska's largely untapped wind-energy resources could create up to 40,000 jobs over the next two decades if a federal goal is met, according to a report.

The report, done by the National Renewable Energy Lab for the Nebraska Energy Office, was presented at wind-energy meetings held in Nebraska in December. It says that if a federal goal of having wind energy make up 20 percent of the U.S. energy supply by 2030 is met, 7,800 megawatts of wind energy would be produced in Nebraska.

Up to 4,000 of the projected 40,000 jobs would be permanent jobs lasting as long as each wind facility operated, which is typically about two decades.

The report also estimated that 4,700 temporary and permanent jobs would be created over the next 20 years if wind farms generating just 1,000 megawatts – much less than the 7,800 megawatts under the federal goal – were built.

Currently, wind farms in the state have the capacity to produce just 153 megawatts – significantly less than any state that abuts Nebraska. In Iowa, for example, existing wind farms have the capacity to produce more than 3,000 megawatts, and in Kansas, more than 1,000 megawatts.

Wind-energy advocates trying to make the Nebraska more attractive to wind-energy developers point to the report as evidence of how the state could benefit from more wind farms.

While Nebraska ranks fourth among states in wind-energy potential, according to a Harvard University report, the state ranks 22nd in actual wind-energy production.

Condoleezza Rice may put global links to use as adviser to energy start-up

Condoleezza Rice is on the board of directors for a new energy company hoping to take advantage of cap-and-trade legislation.

The former secretary of state, who has been teaching political science at Stanford University since the end of the Bush administration, is taking a leading role in a start-up straight out of the university known for its technological prowess. The stealth start-up, called C3, is hoping to make carbon cap-and-trade systems for businesses, according to TechCrunch.

Rice isn't the only politically connected player on the board. C3 also counts former Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.

The company is the brainchild of Thomas Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems, which was bought by Cisco in 2005 for $5.7 billion. Siebel is no political slouch himself — he took a lead role in introducing vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to California.

Rice's involvement in the company could suggest it is planning on going international, leveraging her experience and relationships on a global scale.

Little is known about the company, which is keeping much meaningful information under wraps. But according to filings with the SEC, it has secured about $26 million in private funding.

Of course, the company's future viability depends on whether Congress adopts a cap-and-trade system, which the Obama administration has been pushing for.

Trash to gas: Landfill energy projects increasing

Hundreds of trash trucks across California are rumbling down city streets using clean fuel made from a dirty source: garbage.

The fuel is derived from rotting refuse that San Francisco and Oakland residents and businesses have been discarding in the Altamont landfill since 1980. Since November, the methane gas created from decaying detritus at the 240-acre landfill has been sucked into tubes and sent into an innovative facility that purifies and transforms it into liquefied natural gas.

Almost 500 Waste Management Inc. garbage and recycling trucks run on this new source of environmentally friendly fuel instead of dirty diesel.

In a state that has passed the most stringent greenhouse gas reduction goals in the United States, the climate change benefits of this plant are twofold – methane from the trash heap is captured before entering the environment and use of the fuel produces less carbon dioxide than conventional gasoline.

"We've built the largest landfill-to-LNG plant in the world; this plant produces 13,000 gallons a day of LNG," said Jessica Jones, a landfill manager for Houston-based Waste Management. "It will take 30,000 tons a year of CO2 from the environment."

Altamont is one of two California landfills making LNG; the other is a smaller facility about 40 miles south of Los Angeles. Other natural gas facilities are being planned by Waste Management at some of the 270 active landfills nationwide, and the number could grow quickly as communities seek to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency counted 517 active landfill energy projects in the nation's approximately 1,800 operational municipal landfills. That was up almost 50 percent from 2000, and 28 percent from 2004.

Landfills have plenty of the ingredients to produce methane. Bacteria break down the food scraps, paper, lawn trimmings and other organic waste dumped there. Over time, the material ferments, releasing methane and other gases. About 50 percent of the gas emitted from landfills is methane. It is 21 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere, the EPA said.

"Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide," Tom Frankiewicz, program manager for EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program in Washington, said in an e-mail. "Methane is also the main component of natural gas, so by capturing and using methane as an energy source you get an even bigger bang for the buck."

At the Altamont landfill, seagulls hover over the sprawling complex, set among the rolling green hills and wind farms of the Altamont pass about 50 miles east of San Francisco. Dotted throughout the facility are more than 100 wells with black tubes that vacuum up methane from the heap.

The LNG is then pumped into the garbage and recycling trucks at a company fueling station in Oakland, while vehicles elsewhere in California get their gas at specially equipped stations.

The idea of turning garbage into clean energy is not a new one – the Altamont site has had a methane-fueled electric power plant since 1989 that can power 8,000 homes a day. Hundreds of other landfills in the U.S. also use methane captured from rotting garbage for electricity projects.

In 2005, the last year data was available, landfill methane electricity projects made up 10.8 percent of the country's renewable energy output, not including hydroelectric power, EPA said.

Given its impact on greenhouse gases, four state environmental agencies contributed grants to help build the $15.5 million Altamont plant. Mike Beckman of Linde Group North America, the company that built and runs the natural gas plant, said the Altamont plant should continue producing fuel for 20 years or more.

That makes the nascent Altamont plant potentially profitable, as the gas is sold to Waste Management and other customers.

But to many who may want to use the technology, the cost of purifying the methane into usable liquefied natural gas can be a daunting barrier. The $15.5 million it took to build Altamont's LNG facility is far more than it costs to build a small electrical plant.

"There is growing interest, but because removing impurities from the methane is currently quite expensive, right now it's only profitable at larger landfills where you have enough landfill gas," Frankiewicz said. "With today's economics, these projects only happen at the biggest sites in the U.S.; the thought is that as the technology becomes cheaper, that will change. "

Mass. unveils landmark ocean-management plan

Massachusetts has released the final version of a landmark ocean-management plan, creating a vast regulatory map for the state's coastal waters and setting new limits for offshore wind farms.

The plan allows up to 266 wind turbines in state waters – 166 in two designated commercial wind farm areas and 100 more turbines scattered up and down the coast in smaller "community" projects – as the state tries to ramp up its renewable energy output.

Authorized by the state's Oceans Act of 2008, the plan is designed to regulate development in state-controlled waters, which extend three miles offshore.

It creates protected areas and prohibits development in state waters near the Cape Cod National Seashore.

The protected habitats include eelgrass beds and submerged rocky areas that provide shelter to some of the greatest marine biodiversity in the coastal waters. The plan is also designed to shield whale migratory paths and the habitats of endangered roseate terns.

Before the map, development in state waters had been handled piecemeal, said state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles.

State officials say the map is the first in the country with such a comprehensive scope. Other states, including California and New York, have adopted measures designed to protect offshore ecosystems. Rhode Island is working on its own coastal management plan.

President Barack Obama last year started a similar effort to draft a regulatory framework for federal waters – beyond the three-mile band of state waters.

Although the plan allows up to 266 turbines, Bowles said he doesn't anticipate many of the community-based wind turbines being built – at least not soon – due to the high costs of siting and construction, although he acknowledged that technological improvements could bring those costs down.

The map parcels out the number of allowed community energy projects to each of the state's seven regional planning authorities based on the length of shoreline and area of coastal waters. The plan also requires any project be endorsed by its host community.

Bowles said the final version of the map improves on an earlier version released in July in part by creating tougher protections for ecologically sensitive areas, which constitute nearly two-thirds of the state's waters.

The final version sets a higher regulatory hurdle than the earlier version by requiring developers show that no environmental harm will come from proposed projects in those areas – or prove that the state's data is wrong.

"It's a much more difficult standard than was there before," Bowles said.

Environmental groups praised the plan, saying it balances protection of vulnerable marine wildlife and habitats with responsible ocean uses.

"It's a real victory for the ocean and everyone who depends on it," said Priscilla Brooks of the Conservation Law Foundation. "The bar has been set very high."

The map would do nothing to block the development of the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, the nation's first proposed offshore wind farm, to be located in federal waters off Nantucket Sound.

The plan establishes two new zones for commercial wind-energy projects south of Cuttyhunk Island near the southern end of the Elizabeth Islands and south of Nomans Land, off Martha's Vineyard.

The plan gives local communities some say over the "appropriate scale" of any commercial wind farm in state waters.

The state is also forming a task force with the U.S. Minerals Management Service to coordinate the planning and review of large-scale wind-energy projects in adjacent federal waters.

The plan also sets out priorities for ocean management-related research over the next five years, including better ways to identify sensitive habitats and monitoring the effects of climate change in Massachusetts waters.

Europe Plans New Power Grid to Boost Green Energy

Nine countries in northern Europe are hoping to boost renewable energies by creating a new grid to balance out weather-related fluctuations, according to a German newspaper report. The €30 billion project is urgently needed to help boost green power and combat climate change.

Nine European countries plan to boost their renewable power generation with a €30 billion ($43 billion) project to build a power grid of high-voltage cables under the North Sea, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday.

The cables will transport energy generated by wind power, tidal power and solar power and thereby form a basis for the continued expansion of renewable energy to help combat climate change, the newspaper reported, citing government sources.

The project includes Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg and Norway.

Under the plan, the cables will distribute wind power across large parts of Europe within 10 years. The aim is to link up offshore wind farms along the coasts of Germany and the UK with Norwegian hydroelectric power stations, tidal power stations on the Belgian and Danish coasts and wind and solar power systems on the European mainland.

Officials from the nine countries had agreed to discuss cooperation in December. A first meeting of so-called "national coordinators" is scheduled for Feb. 9, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported. The countries want to agree on a letter of intent by the autumn.

A spokesman for the German Economy Ministry confirmed that preparatory meetings at working group level would take place in January, followed by a "higher-ranking" meeting later on in the first quarter, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Leading European power companies and network operators are to take part in the negotiations because the private sector will be expected to fund most of the investment, the spokesman said. The aim is to coordinate Europe's renewable energy strategies on a technical and political level, he added.

The fluctuation of renewable generation as a result of changing weather conditions has posed a major obstacle to increasing renewable power generation, and a common grid could offset those variations and provide a reliable power supply for large parts of Europe. Norwegian hydroelectrical power plants, for example, could serve as a large-scale storage facility for wind power generated in the UK and Germany.

According to the newspaper, energy companies are in the process of building offshore wind turbines along Europe's coasts with a total capacity of 100 gigawatts, equivalent to about 10 percent of Europe's entire energy needs and matching the output of 100 large coal-fired power stations.

Sven Teske, an expert on renewable energies for Greenpeace, said Europe's existing power grid wasn't capable of taking in the output from the new wind farms and that European power grid urgently needs to be expanded, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Where on Earth will we store all that captured CO2? Try the East Coast

Carbon capture and storage—sucking the CO2 from power plant or industrial smokestack emissions—has been cited by everyone from the Bush administration to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a key technology in any effort to combat climate change. That's because the world—particularly China, India and the U.S.—burns a lot of coal.

Deep saline aquifers or nearly empty oil wells are a few of the possibilities for where to put carbon dioxide, but what might be even better is a volcanic rock known as basalt. That's because the rock both stores CO2 and, over a relatively short period of years, forms carbonate minerals with it—in other words, limestone.

Already, several pilot projects to inject CO2 into basalt and see how successfully it stores the greenhouse gas are under way, including off the coast of Oregon and beneath Iceland. In fact, the Iceland project has already begun to inject trace amounts of CO2 dissolved in water to form carbonic acid, which speeds the reaction with the volcanic rock, according to physicist Klaus Lackner of Columbia University. "They want to understand the plumbing," he told me this past November. "Drill back there 20 years from now, you shouldn't find any CO2 because it's all carbonate."

Now new research from Lackner's colleagues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory led by geophysicist David Goldberg, shows that vast deposits of basalt lie off the coast of Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and South Carolina. Even better, the risk of leakage from such storage is low since the overlying ocean forms a second barrier of protection for the injected greenhouse gas. Along these lines, the Sleipner natural gas project in the North Sea has successfully stored more than 10 million metric tons of CO2 for more than a decade. Just one of the formations identified in Monday's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Goldberg et al. off the coast of New Jersey could hold as much as 1 billion metric tons of CO2. Of course, the nations of the world emit more than 30 billion metric tons of CO2 per year.

Ultimately, the key will be determining that the CO2 can be safely stored for the long-term. Already, a proposed coal-fired power plant proposed in Linden, N.J. includes plans to pump captured CO2 emissions into an offshore sediment, albeit not a basalt one.

If CO2 emissions end up being captured at power plants, factories and other sources, the U.S. coasts in the East and Pacific Northwest might be well-placed to serve as repositories based on Goldberg's research—in lieu of the atmosphere, where the gas is currently wreaking havoc with the global climate. "The Siberian basalt traps, the Deccan flats in India," Lackner added, "there are enormous amounts of basalt [globally]."

Faster Than a Speeding Carrot: A Racing Car Made Entirely from Recyclables and Vegetable By-Products

A Formula 3 racing car made entirely out of recycled and renewable materials could be a sign of things to come in the automotive industry. At least, that is the hope of some British researchers who have built WorldFirst, an unusual automobile made mostly using recycled plastic water and juice bottles, potato starch, carrot fibers and other materials one normally expects to find in the recycling or compost bin.

The car reaches a top speed of 238 kilometers per hour and has been driven more than 800 kilometers for testing and demonstrations since it first rolled out of the lab in April. WorldFirst was tested at Brands Hatch—a motor racing circuit in Kent, England—driven by professional racer Aaron Steele.

Engineers at the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Center (WIMRC) at Warwick University in England built the car as part of a larger project to develop new materials for use in the automotive and health care sectors that meet the goals of sustainable development. The WorldFirst racing car also is a response to two emerging trends in auto racing: an interest in a greener approach to the sport and the escalating costs of fielding a competitive Formula 1 racing team that have chased away some sponsors, says James Meredith, a WIMRC biomaterials engineer and WorldFirst project manager. (Formula 3 competitions are generally considered to be stepping-stones for drivers looking to compete in Formula 1 races.)

The WorldFirst car is a proof-of-principle vehicle that shows it is possible to use recycled and reused materials to build a functioning automobile. "The choice of which materials to use was based on how easy they were to work with, what shape the part we needed to manufacture was, and what mechanical properties were needed," Meredith says. Recycled carbon fiber was used for the large parts of the car such as the engine cover. Fibers made from flax and hemp were used for simple parts such as the bargeboard and bib, which are used to improve aerodynamics. Other major parts of the car are made from carbon and fiberglass.

The outer part of the steering wheel was made from Curran, a polymer made by CelluComp in Scotland and derived from carrots and other root vegetables. Curran has properties similar to those of glass or carbon fiber-reinforced polymer, Meredith says. The inside of the driver's seat was made from soy-based foam, while the cover consists of a fabric made from flax.

The tires are still made of rubber, although tire manufacturer Avon Tyres (a division of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.) claims it is working to eliminate one of the biggest toxic polluting compounds in them, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are used to help soften the rubber. PAHs that leach from old tires disposed of incorrectly can contaminate soil and water, and the chemical compound can become airborne in tire fires.

The WorldFirst racing car runs on biodiesel derived from chocolate fat. Meredith notes that the chocolate fat used for this purpose is actually a waste product in the food industry. "Whenever you burn a biodiesel made from waste materials," he says, "it can be argued that it is carbon neutral."

The radiator is coated with PremAir, a catalyst material that converts the ozone portion of the car's emissions into oxygen—something that is desirable since at ground level ozone is a pollutant.

How strong and how durable are the materials in this car? "In terms of their durability—we are still working on this," Meredith says. "All the parts we have made to date are still going strong. Natural fibers will most likely have a lower resistance to weather effects as the fibers will absorb moisture if exposed and then degrade. Recycled carbon fiber and glass fiber with recycled resins should have equal durability to standard materials."

Biofiber components derived from a variety of plants are already being used in some non-racing car components, says Mohini Sain, a professor of forestry at the University of Toronto's Center for Biocomposites and Biomaterials Processing. Some manufacturers use biomaterials in door panels, consoles, tire covers and floor mats. Eventually, as the technology improves, biomaterials will be used in larger components, says Sain, who was not part of the WorldFirst project. Already, some biofiber materials perform as well as glass fibers and are less dense. Sain notes that biofibers do break down when exposed to moisture, but the fibers are coated in resins and plastics to counter this.

Meredith predicts the car should last as long as any other racing car, saying, "The natural fiber parts have lasted well although their weather resistance does not appear to be as good as existing materials." In the end, "ideally all the natural fiber products can be shredded and composted, carbon parts can be recycled again—albeit with a small amount of degradation," he adds.