Monday, December 7, 2009

James Hansen on Copenhagen Day 1

Cap and Fade

AT the international climate talks in Copenhagen, President Obama is expected to announce that the United States wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to about 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. But at the heart of his plan is cap and trade, a market-based approach that has been widely praised but does little to slow global warming or reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It merely allows polluters and Wall Street traders to fleece the public out of billions of dollars.

Supporters of cap and trade point to the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that capped sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-burning power plants — the main pollutants in acid rain — at levels below what they were in 1980. This legislation allowed power plants that reduced emissions to levels below the cap to sell the credit for these excess reductions to other utilities whose emissions were too high, thus giving plant owners a financial incentive to cut back their pollution. Sulfur emissions have been reduced by 43 percent in the two decades since. Great success? Hardly.

Because cap and trade is enforced through the selling and trading of permits, it actually perpetuates the pollution it is supposed to eliminate. If every polluter’s emissions fell below the incrementally lowered cap, then the price of pollution credits would collapse and the economic rationale to keep reducing pollution would disappear.

Worse yet, polluters’ lobbyists ensured that the clean air amendments allowed existing power plants to be “grandfathered,” avoiding many pollution regulations. These old plants would soon be retired anyway, the utilities claimed. That’s hardly been the case: Two-thirds of today’s coal-fired power plants were constructed before 1975.

Cap and trade also did little to improve public health. Coal emissions are still significant contributing factors in four of the five leading causes of mortality in the United States — and mercury, arsenic and various coal pollutants also cause birth defects, asthma and other ailments.

Yet cap-and-trade schemes are still being pursued in Copenhagen and Washington. (Though I head the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, I’m speaking only for myself.)

To compound matters, the Congressional carbon cap would also encourage “offsets” — alternatives to emission reductions, like planting trees on degraded land or avoiding deforestation in Brazil. Caps would be raised by the offset amount, even if such offsets are imaginary or unverifiable. Stopping deforestation in one area does not reduce demand for lumber or food-growing land, so deforestation simply moves elsewhere.

Once again, lobbyists are providing the real leadership on climate change legislation. Under the proposed law, some permits to pollute would be handed out free; and much of the money actually collected from permits would be used to pay for boondoggles like “clean coal” research. The House and Senate energy bills would only assure continued coal use, making it implausible that carbon dioxide emissions would decline sharply.

If that isn’t bad enough, Wall Street is poised to make billions of dollars in the “trade” part of cap-and-trade. The market for trading permits to emit carbon appears likely to be loosely regulated, to be open to speculators and to include derivatives. All the profits of this pollution trading system would be extracted from the public via increased energy prices.

There is a better alternative, one that would be more efficient and less costly than cap and trade: “fee and dividend.” Under this approach, a gradually rising carbon fee would be collected at the mine or port of entry for each fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas). The fee would be uniform, a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in the fuel. The public would not directly pay any fee, but the price of goods would rise in proportion to how much carbon-emitting fuel is used in their production.

All of the collected fees would then be distributed to the public. Prudent people would use their dividend wisely, adjusting their lifestyle, choice of vehicle and so on. Those who do better than average in choosing less-polluting goods would receive more in the dividend than they pay in added costs.

For example, when the fee reached $115 per ton of carbon dioxide it would add $1 per gallon to the price of gasoline and 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour to the price of electricity. Given the amount of oil, gas and coal used in the United States in 2007, that carbon fee would yield about $600 billion per year. The resulting dividend for each adult American would be as much as $3,000 per year. As the fee rose, tipping points would be reached at which various carbon-free energies and carbon-saving technologies would become cheaper than fossil fuels plus their fees. As time goes on, fossil fuel use would collapse.

Still need more convincing? Consider the perverse effect cap and trade has on altruistic actions. Say you decide to buy a small, high-efficiency car. That reduces your emissions, but not your country’s. Instead it allows somebody else to buy a bigger S.U.V. — because the total emissions are set by the cap.

In a fee-and-dividend system, every action to reduce emissions — and to keep reducing emissions — would be rewarded. Indeed, knowing that you were saving money by buying a small car might inspire your neighbor to follow suit. Popular demand for efficient vehicles could drive gas guzzlers off the market. Such snowballing effects could speed us toward a pollution-free world.

The plans in Copenhagen and Washington have not been finalized. It is not too late to trade cap and trade for an approach that actually works.

James Hansen is the author of the forthcoming “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Obama Adviser Hints at Compromise on Cap-and-Trade Emission Allowances

Washington Post article...

In Areas Fueled by Coal, Climate Bill Sends Chill

The thing is, prices will only rise so high. Once alternative sources become more competitive, they should supplant the unclean coal.

NYT article...

Where Is Our Ferdinand Pecora?

great op-ed.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Oil's opinion

captured well by this NYT piece...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

EU biofuel trade war is brewing

March 4, 2009

Europe Backs Tariffs on U.S. Biofuel Imports

BRUSSELS — Seeking to protect their beleaguered biodiesel industry, European governments on Tuesday backed a plan to impose provisional tariffs on American biodiesel producers
like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, European Union diplomats said.

Both the European Union and the United States subsidize their
biodiesel industries. But European producers have complained to trade
regulators that their counterparts in the United States benefit twice:
from subsidies by the United States government to produce biodiesel,
and from subsidies granted by European governments when the fuel is
sold on the Continent.

Moves by the European Union to impose tariffs come as concerns are growing
that protectionism by governments during the current downturn could
spiral out of control. But representatives of the European biodiesel
industry said the measures being undertaken by European officials were
necessary and justified under World Trade Organization rules.

“Whatever the action of the United States will be — even in front of
the W.T.O. — our complaint and our case is well grounded,” said
Raffaelo Garofalo, the secretary general of the European Biodiesel
Board, an industry group. “There is no logical explanation for why
biodiesel sold in Europe could be cheaper than its raw materials.”

European diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because a final determination on the levels of duties remained with the European Commission, which is not expected to publish its decision until next week.

Under European rules, the commission is entitled to impose
provisional duties lasting six months. Any definitive measures, lasting
five years, would need approval by European governments before the

“We are not commenting on expected decisions and instead will wait
for official action to be taken by the commission,” said an American
trade official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal
decision had not yet been made.

To counter what it calls unfair subsidies to the American industry,
the commission is poised to impose tariffs of 261 to 407 euros, or $328
to $511, on a ton of American biodiesel, the diplomats said. Dozens of
companies would be affected, the diplomats said.

The level of tariffs would be tailored to individual companies to
reflect the types and amounts of the fuel they produce, and the amount
of subsidies and other support they receive from American authorities,
the diplomats said. Commission officials have visited United States as
part of an investigation since beginning formal proceedings last year,
they said.

Monday, February 23, 2009

'Green' energy needs a big leap

Experts say scientific breakthroughs are the key to making renewable power sources cheap and easy to use.
By Jim Tankersley

February 23, 2009

Reporting from Washington — When Energy Secretary Steven Chu talks about how Americans can break their addiction to oil and coal, he starts with his hi-fi amplifier. It's so old that the on-off light burned out long ago. But inside lies a technology that -- in its day -- was as revolutionary as the changes needed to solve the nation's energy problems.

Radios, telephones and other electronics once depended on fragile vacuum tubes the size of small light bulbs. Then scientists pioneered a smaller, cheaper and more durable replacement called the transistor, opening the way to trans-Atlantic phone calls and a host of other marvels, including Chu's stereo.

Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and other experts say similar scientific breakthroughs are needed to make renewable power sources such as wind, solar and biofuels as cheap and easy to use as costly, environmentally damaging oil and coal. Toward that end, President Obama's stimulus package contains $8 billion for energy research, including $400 million targeted for game-changing technology.

The problem is that over the last three decades, the U.S. has spent many times that much on energy research and development -- with nothing like a transistor to show for it.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

coal in the Senate stimulus bill, where is renewable energy?

According to the The Charleston Gazette the Senate version of the economic stimulus bill has $4.6 billion for coal. The point I would make with this was made best by Oppenheimer when he's said this bill is cementing into place the wrong infrastructure in the NYTimes today.

Where is the renewable energy in this bill? There are some nice tax incentives in there, but its not even clear if the very meager and modest National Clean Energy Lending Authority called for by several will be included.

I hope this coal money does not count against the ledger of the $150 billion in green jobs promised by Obama.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cape Wind moves to next step?

More in NYT.

Green New Deal?

'Green' energy plan in Obama stimulus may be losing steam - Los Angeles Times

This is a troubling commentary. The only moment in some time that we've seen public support and a open-wallet government, and its losing steam for no good visible reason. No Windfall Profits Tax, No Green new Deal, whats next.

Bush plan for California oil: a parting gift to big oil and gas

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chu warmly received at Senate confirmation hearing

(AP) --

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu promised Tuesday that if
confirmed as energy secretary he will aggressively pursue policies
aimed at addressing climate change and achieving greater energy
independence by developing clean energy sources.

But he also told lawmakers that he views nuclear power and coal as critical
parts of the nation's energy mix and said he was optimistic that ways
can be found to make coal a cleaner energy source by capturing its
carbon dioxide emissions.

Chu, nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to head the Energy
Department, appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee where he received immediate support from both Democrats and


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hundreds of Coal Ash Dumps Lack Regulation

The coal ash pond that ruptured and sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge across 300 acres of East Tennessee last month was only one of more than 1,300 similar dumps across the United States — most of them unregulated and unmonitored — that contain billions more gallons of fly ash and other byproducts of burning coal.

Like the one in Tennessee, most of these dumps, which reach up to 1,500 acres, contain heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a threat to water supplies and human health. Yet they are not subject to any federal regulation, which experts say could have prevented the spill, and there is little monitoring of their effects on the surrounding environment.

In fact, coal ash is used throughout the country for construction fill, mine reclamation and other “beneficial uses.” In 2007, according to a coal industry estimate, 50 tons of fly ash even went to agricultural uses, like improving soil’s ability to hold water, despite a 1999 E.P.A. warning about high levels of arsenic. The industry has promoted the reuse of coal combustion products because of the growing amount of them being produced each year — 131 million tons in 2007, up from less than 90 million tons in 1990.

The amount of coal ash has ballooned in part because of increased demand for electricity, but more because air pollution controls have improved. Contaminants and waste products that once spewed through the coal plants’ smokestacks are increasingly captured in the form of solid waste, held in huge piles in 46 states, near cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tampa, Fla., and on the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

more at...

Monday, January 5, 2009

In Silicon Valley, Venture Capitalists Turn Cautious and Focus on the Short Term

from NYT...

CLEAN TECH GETS REALISTIC Venture capitalists are still chasing clean technology. Through September, $3 billion was invested in technologies that create alternative energy and conserve power, up from $1.9 billion the year before, according to the National Venture Capital Association. But big, expensive projects like building factories to manufacture solar panels or biofuels are falling out of favor.

“The economic arguments for those businesses literally went upside down in a year,” said Paul Holland, the general partner in charge of the clean tech practice at Foundation Capital.

Instead, some venture capitalists are looking at technologies that monitor energy demand, like software that tracks and regulates a building’s energy use.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Energy Secretary

This Times article paints a pretty positive view of DoE nominee Chu and the Joint BioEnergy Institute.

In Choice to Lead NOAA, a Wide Range of Credentials

Obama picked a marine ecologist to head NOAA.

Winter Cold Puts a Chill on Green Energy

There are obviously some important issues to think about in this story. Also some overemphasis...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama naming Nobel Prize winner from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as energy secretary

Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will be Barack Obama's energy secretary, according to several media reports.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist and former chair of Stanford University's physics department, is a major supporter of developing alternative fuels and solar research and backs government mandated steps to control greenhouse gas emissions.

His selection signals that Obama plans to move ahead with his agenda of promoting environmentally friendly energy sources. And by putting a university scientist at the helm of the energy department, instead of an industry leader or political leader with no science background as had been speculated, it indicates that Obama plans to commit to a government industry partnership to develop green energy initiatives.

"It is wonderful to see another distinguished Californian be mentioned for a Cabinet level position,'' Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement. "Dr. Chu would bring extraordinary scientific accomplishments to the job of Energy Secretary at a time when science is telling us we must act to avert the ravages of global warming."

Chu, 60, of Oakland, has led the Berkeley national lab since 2004 and is a member of the board of the Hewlett Foundation.

The Associated Press, citing Democratic officials, said Obama has also selected Lisa Jackson for environmental protection agency administrator and Carol Browner as his energy "czar."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wave power put to the test in Monterey Bay

Kurtis Alexander - Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted: 12/09/2008 01:30:56 AM PST

The 60-foot Velocity motored out of Santa Cruz harbor Monday afternoon under mostly sunny skies. On deck was an apprehensive crew -- scientists with research group SRI International of Menlo Park, observers from the Department of Energy and financiers with the Tokyo-based Hyper Drive Corp.

As the boat began to bob up and down after clearing the breakwater, and the stomachs of those with weaker constitutions began to churn, the day's mission became all the more clear: to see the wave motion go to work making electricity.

The 62-year-old SRI International, which counts the invention of the computer mouse among its discoveries, was at sea to test its new wave-powered generator, a floating device that awaited the Velocity about a mile offshore and holds the promise, its inventors said, of bringing energy to land.

"There's only so much you can do in the lab. At some point, you have to put it out in the water," said Philip Von Guggenberg, the group's business director.

The ocean has become the latest frontier for a power industry hungry for alternatives.

Waves, say energy experts, have many advantages. They're constant and reliable, close to the highly populated coasts where power needs are greatest, and, unlike other sources of electricity such as solar, can be harnessed with very basic technology.

Two countries, Portugal and Scotland, have begun to commercialize wave power and several others are working
to catch up, including the United States, where several projects are in the pipeline.

"It's still a very open market," said Carolyn Elefant with the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition, the young industry's even younger trade group. "Even companies that are on the leading edge now and currently feeding power to the grid, we don't know in 10 or 15 years if they're going to be the winners in this race."

For researchers at SRI International, the strategy in a marketplace with no defined standard is to go simple.

The group's wave generator is designed to let waves move a bendable slab of rubber-like material and, by doing so, act much like a turbine and produce electricity. Today, it might just be a few watts, tomorrow, a small city.

"We like to say we can make electricity with something as simple as a rubber band," said Roy Kornbluh, principal research engineer for SRI International. The technology, he adds, avoids the more costly and error-prone wave systems that rely on pumps to push air, water or oil to generate power.

And so, amid light winds on the Monterey Bay and relatively calm surf, the Velocity pulled up to the much anticipated wave machine. Kornbluh and others aboard set their sights seaward.

On a roughly 10-foot-tall buoy, two levers moved with the rise and fall of the ocean, pushing accordian-looking rubbery material up and down through plastic columns.

"It's responding to the choppy waves and the longer waves," Kornbluh said.

In other words, success. At least for now.

Mikio Waki, chief technology officer of Hyper Drive, says the technology, which produced a relatively scant 20 joules per second -- enough to power a small lightbulb -- during its four-day debut, is at least five years away from being scaled up and commercially viable. And how the power will be transmitted, either sending electricity through underground cables or producing hydrogen from the generator that would run through a pipe, is yet to be determined.

But in an industry that energy experts say could supply 6.5 percent of the nation's total energy needs, there is still time to figure things out.

"The best way to extract the resource is still unclear," said Alejandro Moreno, a manager of water programs for the Department of Energy, who joined the crew of the Velocity to preview the nascent system. "But any technology that can minimize moving parts and components that might break will be at an advantage."
Contact Kurtis Alexander at 706-3267 or