Monday, March 2, 2009

The Environmental Divide

When times are tough, as they are now, there often emerges an even sharper contrast of visions.  In some ways, the extremists for any cause thrive in the crisis times when they can use the "urgency" of the underlying crisis as reason to stop compromising and give in to the feel-good approach of self-righteous ideological grandstanding.  The justification becomes that "times are too urgent" for half measures.  

Let's think about this.  If times are so bad, doesn't it make more sense to work WITH other people?  Don't we need pragmatism now more than ever?  When you consider that extreme positions rarely if ever accomplish anything (other than fundraising and self-aggrandizement), you realize that when times are tough economically, that's when you need swift action . . . forward progress!  America's government is not designed for this - it is designed to require compromise and steady, thought-through action that has the agreement of a wide cross section of our very diverse country.  So in the end, it is pragmatism, bridge-building and finally, shared understanding that moves large issues forward in a sustainable way.

Keep all of this in mind as you read the article below from the Economist.
There is an interesting divide emerging within environmentalists with some using the urgent needs of the planet as an excuse to be as uncompromising and ideological as they want.  I feel the need to keep asking these folks:  "What actual good has your position brought?"  If you oppose new transition lines being built for a project that will increase renewable energy . . . how are you helping the overall environment?  

I've long been frustrated that there seems to be NO ability or willingness in the majority of the environmental community to prioritize!!  There are ALWAYS trade-offs -- and there are even for "good" energy projects.  The path of opposing everything leads us to actually support the dirtiest options -- SINCE THEY ARE THE ONES THAT ALREADY EXIST!  Enviros are forever engaging in intellectual puzzles that try to assess all the impacts of any action.  There is certainly a place for understanding impacts to the best of our ability -- but there is also a place for recognizing that if you wait until the "perfect" energy source is ready to be commercialized, you are in fact prolonging the life of the dirtier option because you are unwilling to take a more modest step forward.

I hope that the public and those that fund environmental organizations begin to see the real trade-offs from extremist rhetoric on both sides.  

I know I'm often hard on the environmentalists for their refusal to be pragmatic -- but let us also recognize that these groups would have far less power in our society if there had been more good-faith efforts from industry to address environmental problems head on.  So - there is plenty of blame to go around.

Feb 12, 2009

Tree-huggers v nerds
Feb 12th 2009 | LOS ANGELES 
From The Economist print edition

As the planet heats up, so do disputes between environmentalists

LAST December California approved a power line between San Diego and the Imperial Valley—a spot blessed with sun, wind and geothermal energy resources. The Sunrise Powerlink would twist around a state park, an Indian reservation and much of a forest (see map). Its builders would be banned from harming burrowing owls or rattlesnakes. It is just the sort of green infrastructure project that might be expected to delight environmentalists. Their response? An appeal and a petition to the state Supreme Court.

“Environmentalists have never been a well-mannered lot”, says Terry Tamminen, who has advised Arnold Schwarzenegger on climate change. But they seem to be becoming more ornery. A growing fear that the environment is on the brink of collapse is making many greens less willing to compromise, even with each other. And George Bush’s departure from the White House has removed a common adversary.

The fiercest disputes are over electricity transmission. Many environmentalists, including Mr Schwarzenegger, argue that more power lines must be built to connect cities with potential sources of renewable energy. The governor strongly supports the Sunrise Powerlink project. The Sierra Club opposes it, along with another line that would run east from Los Angeles. Together with the Centre for Biological Diversity, the organisation is holding out for a guarantee that the line will be used to transmit electricity solely from renewable sources. Environmental groups in Nevada and the Midwest have issued similar ultimatums.

To an extent this is a dispute between pragmatism and idealism. Politicians like Mr Schwarzenegger tend to believe that energy projects should be judged on whether they improve on current practice. Activists, by contrast, prefer to measure them against an environmental ideal. “A little bit better than the status quo isn’t good enough,” explains Bill Magavern, the Sierra Club’s California director. He wants power to be generated close to those who will use it, and envisages a rash of solar roofs in San Diego.

A more profound difference has to do with how the problem is diagnosed. Although no big environmental group is unconcerned with global warming, they view the threat in different ways. The big divide is between those who fret about measurable changes in greenhouse-gas emissions and those who worry more about harm to natural habitats, whether caused by global warming or anything else. The first group—call them the environmental nerds—includes people like Al Gore and Mr Schwarzenegger. The second group—call them the tree-huggers—includes the Sierra Club, the Centre for Biological Diversity and other established conservation groups.

The dispute is likely to intensify in the next few months as Washington weighs in. This week Congress reached a deal on a stimulus plan that encourages the construction of yet more power lines. Barack Obama wants to create green jobs, but he needs to create jobs above all, and quickly. Environmentalists, who know how to hold up big projects better than anybody, will not be bounced so easily. A shame: after all, the greens are winning.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Germans Exporting Energy Efficiency - We Should Too!

Awhile back I participated in a farmer-to-farmer exchange between the U.S. and Germany looking at renewable energy and climate-friendly agricultural practices that might count as offsets to a mandatory climate cap-trade system some day.

While in Germany, I was extremely impressed with the amount of bio-gas production they had going on.  The government guaranteed a 22 cent/kilowatt price for bio-gas created energy (over double the usual price for electricity) and as a result, almost every farm of any size has added a bio-gas production facility.  

So - from time to time, I check in on what's going on in the German renewable energy sector -- as they seem to be very innovative and focused on solving the problems of promoting more low-carbon energy -- German engineering indeed!

Today I saw a press release from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.  Their latest offering is a database that allows buyers to find energy-efficient technology made in Germany.  This resource says so many things - not only is Germany largely engaged in low-carbon energy technology, but they are major exporters of this technology -- and they are promoting it in a very good way.  

Now imagine how much the U.S. could do on this front - with all its resources . . . and what that new economic activity could do for our struggling economy.  Yes, I realize that America has far more fossil resources to use, and thus, it makes sense that the U.S. would develop that resource.  But, its often said these days that "We just don't make anything here anymore."  Well, think of energy efficiency and low carbon/renewable energy as "a whole lot of stuff" we could make very well -- and that much of the world increasingly wants to buy!  

Even more important from my perspective -- is how much MORE is actually done to solve energy problems through engineering and science than through rhetoric and partisanship. 

Below is the press release so you can read all about it.  And, you can check out the database by clicking here.


Database of German providers of energy-efficient products and services now online free of charge: The Energy Efficiency Export Initiative launches its international debut

Starting today, potential business partners from around the world can search online for German providers of energy-efficient products and services, thanks to the English-language website of the Energy Efficiency Export Initiative ( In order to be included in the database, German companies can register themselves free of charge at The process takes just a few minutes. After registering, German companies can then create a company profile which enables them to be identified in online searches by interested users from around the globe. In the few weeks since the German-language version of the website went into operation, more than 350 companies have registered with the Initiative. And the numbers keep going up.

The database covers a comprehensive spectrum of products and services that range from "architects" to "ventilation systems". This makes it possible for entrepreneurs, policymakers and other interested parties from around the world to gain quick access to potential business partners in Germany, who are grouped together under a single international label: "Energy Efficiency - Made in Germany". The database also provides information on a dynamic network of partners in specific target countries. All of these features make the website a one-stop-shop and central point of contact for anyone who is looking for German suppliers and business partners in the field of energy efficiency. And German companies benefit as well: the website gives them a direct platform for making their products and services known to potential international customers, providing them with a "gateway to the world" that enables them to build contacts to new export markets both quickly and easily.

The newly launched English-language website is targeted toward companies and opinion leaders in export markets that are of key importance for Germany's energy efficiency industry. It is a crucial addition to the extensive German-language website of the Energy Efficiency Export Initiative, which provides numerous services to support the export activities of German companies.

Federal Minister of Economics and Technology Michael Glos stated: "This new online database covers the entire spectrum of energy efficiency and will help match international stakeholders with the right contact persons at qualified and knowledgeable German companies that provide technology and services. At the same time, we are providing the German energy efficiency industry with a web-based platform for expanding their export business. We want the label 'Energy Efficiency - Made in Germany' to become internationally recognised as a mark of first-rate quality."

Since the 2007, the Energy Efficiency Export Initiative - which is run by the Federal Government under the lead responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology - has been supporting the export activities of German firms in the field of energy efficiency. The Initiative provides support above all to small and medium-sized enterprises that offer energy-efficient products and services.

For further information, please contact the Energy Efficiency Export Initiative (full contact information is available at

Friday, January 16, 2009

Congress' Climate Plan: Partisan or Passable?

A new Congress has been seated in the U.S. and soon, a new President will be sworn in.  Now is the time when legislative plans are being made for the year and the new President's priorities either clash or harmonize with the Congress.

As I have discussed here before, there is a real danger that the new leaders of the climate issue in the Congress will move to the left on the climate issue (less flexibility in allowing regulated entities to meet their cap and a very limited or no offsets option).  Currently, most Republicans remain absent from the climate debate - and the few that are engaged are trying to stand in front of a political train that will merely run them down.  Therefore, it will fall to a select group of conservative or "blue dog" Democrats and some moderate Republicans to ensure that the climate legislation that moves forward is workable and, dare I say it, SUSTAINABLE in this difficult economy.

Below is a good overview article laying out the Congressional agendas for the climate issue. 

Climate Change - Environment and Energy Daily
Jan. 16, 2009
Waxman begins four-month march to move emissions bill
Darren Samuelsohn, E&E senior reporter

Let the vote-counting begin.
Minutes into his first hearing yesterday as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) boldly pledged to move a comprehensive climate change bill through the panel by Memorial Day. But the road to the House floor isn't that simple.

Democrats hold a 36-23 edge on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That is a big margin for Waxman to work with as he takes the lead in writing a cap-and-trade climate bill over the next four months. But lawmakers from both parties warn that there are no guarantees Waxman will be able to satisfy any Republicans, let alone some of his own Democrats who represent districts with heavy industrial bases.

"That's the question: Are you going to insert the word 'Ohio?' Are you going to insert the word 'Pennsylvania?'" asked Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the GOP's former top House vote counter. "What are you going to put in this that allows people in states that are particularly dependent on coal, either as a producer or user of coal, to move forward?"

Waxman, an 18-term congressman, did not give specifics on the climate bill he has in mind during yesterday's hearing on global warming, the first since he took over late last year as the new chairman.

But Waxman did explain that he has a wider range of recommendations available to pull from, including previous versions of cap-and-trade legislation introduced by other Democrats and the U.S. Climate Action Partnership blueprintreleased yesterday that calls for a reduction of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2050.

"A consensus is developing that our nation needs climate legislation," Waxman said. "Our job is to transform this consensus into effective legislation. The legislation must be based on the science and meet the very serious threats we face."

As he moves forward, Waxman can claim support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In a prepared statement, Pelosi called Waxman's Memorial Day schedule an "aggressive timetable for action to reduce global warming and our dependence on foreign oil. I share his sense of urgency and his belief that we cannot afford another year of delay."

Across Capitol Hill, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) issued her own statement saying she was "very pleased" with Waxman's plans. She pointed out that while she pushed a cap-and-trade bill through her committee in December 2007, the House took no action on global warming legislation over the last two years.

Looking ahead, Boxer promised to release "a set of principles for my new legislation in the coming weeks." And she said that Waxman's schedule, coupled with the U.S. CAP announcement, suggest "the writing is on the wall that legislation to combat global warming is coming soon."

House and Senate Democratic leaders say they will be consulting closely with the Obama administration on its preferences for global warming legislation, a strategy repeated during confirmation hearings this week by EPA Administrator designee Lisa Jackson.

The Obama administration will likely release a series of legislative principles out of the Obama White House, as opposed to a detailed bill, according to an aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the newly created House Energy and Environment Subcommittee with primary jurisdiction on a global warming bill.

"Frankly, I think what we're going to get from this administration is what we got from the tail end of the Clinton administration and not the start of the Clinton administration," the Markey staffer said. "One of the great mistakes of the health care debate is they tried to write a 300-page bill. Congress doesn't take dictation very well."

'The fossil fuel Democrats'

Given the size of the Democratic majorities, Blunt predicted cap-and-trade advocates would find success when it comes to moving climate legislation, though it may mean making some concessions.

"If Barack Obama is pushing for it, and Nancy Pelosi is pushing for it, and Barbara Boxer is pushing for it and Henry Waxman is pushing for it, it probably happens," Blunt said. "But that doesn't mean it happens in the right way, or the right time frame."

Blunt also would not rule out Republicans voting in support of a Waxman-led climate bill. "It's too early to tell," he said.

Several Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee said they had already made up their mind they would be opposed to a cap-and-trade bill, including Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois.

Shimkus, a seven-term congressman from southern Illinois' coal country, sounded off during yesterday's hearing against the economic implications of a new carbon cap in the United States. And he predicted political fallout for Democrats from similar industry-heavy districts if they back Waxman's legislation.

"I'm going to hold the fossil fuel Democrats accountable," Shimkus said. "You better be prepared to defend your vote as global climate change legislation will destroy the fossil fuel industry."

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he did not buy the argument offered by U.S. CAP members that it would cost more to stave off the effects of climate change in future years if lawmakers do not move now to curb emissions with a cap-and-trade bill.

"You hear that in a lot of issues: A stitch in time saves nine," Gingrey said. "But right now, I don't believe we have a stitch left when we get through trying to save the economy and restore some of these 2.5 million jobs lost last year."

Warnings from Shimkus and Gingrey underscore the work Waxman has to do to win over Republicans. Meantime, some of the so-called fossil fuel Democrats who serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee said they planned to be active participants in the drafting of climate legislation.

"I want to be able to support a bill," said Rep. Baron Hill, a five-term lawmaker from southeastern Indiana. "But if coal is not addressed, then I cannot support a bill. It's just as plain and simple as that."

Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.) said Waxman's Memorial Day target would require giving lawmakers like him time to study the climate bill. "Mr. Waxman is a very experienced legislator, and I think he realizes he can't just dump this on us one day and move it forward," said Melancon, a three-term congressman representing the state's southeastern swampland.

Asked if the committee's Democrats would be a "rubber stamp" on whatever legislation Waxman produces, Melancon replied, "That'd be a firm no. But I have committed to be open minded and try to resolve issues rather than just take an opposing position."

"I think the work starts today," added Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)

DeGette, the Democrats' chief House deputy whip, also predicted GOP support for the legislation, though she would not name any names. "I'd have to take a survey," she said.

Off Capitol Hill, environmental groups and companies involved in U.S. CAP welcomed Waxman's decision to spell out a four-month game plan.

"There's a lot of work to be done," said Francis Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But you'll never know how long it takes if you don't get started."

Jeff Sterba, president and CEO of PNM Resources Inc., a New Mexico-based electric utility company, said he wanted to see Congress write and vote on climate legislation this year. "They can move quickly if they want to," he said.

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