Business & Technology


NRDC and EDF endorse the weak, coal-friendly, rip-offset-heavy USCAP climate plan

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership -- a coalition of businesses and enviros once thought to be important -- have released their wimpy Blueprint for Legislative Action. I can sort of understand why, say, Duke Energy, signed on to this, but NRDC, EDF, and WRI have a lot of explaining to do. As we will see, this proposal would be wholly inadequate as a final piece of legislation. As a starting point it is unilateral disarmament to the conservative politicians and big fossil fuel companies who will be working hard to gut any bill. Kudos to the National Wildlife Federation for withdrawing from USCAP rather than signing on. I think it is absurd for any serious environmental group to support permitting new coal plants that don't capture and store the vast majority of their emissions. Yet as the WashPost reports: The plan would also require any coal plant permitted after Jan. 1, 2015, to emit no more than half the carbon dioxide emissions now considered normal and require any newly permitted plant today to have the ability to be retrofitted to meet that standard. These are bogus provisions. Nobody really knows what a capture-ready plant design is -- this is the climate equivalent of "the check is in the mail." Any significant number of such new coal plants will simply make it much harder to meet the 2020 target, at a time when we have more than enough low carbon technologies today to meet any such target affordably. But it is the 2020 target and the issue of rip-offsets that make this proposal truly untenable. The Blueprint calls for requiring that U.S. greenhouse gases (GHGs) return to "80%‐86% of 2005 levels by 2020." That is essentially returning to 1990 levels, which the science clearly says is inadequate to stabilizing at 450 ppm, let alone the 350 ppm target that environmental groups should be seriously considering. Worse, the science makes clear that you need a target below 1990 levels without allowing fossil fuel companies to offset their emissions -- i.e. continue releasing CO2 into the atmosphere where it will linger with a mean atmospheric lifetime of 30,000 years. But the already-lame USCAP proposal shoots itself in the (other) foot with its embrace of a staggering amount of rip-offsets.

Notable quotable

Killing people to save a little money: Not reasonable conduct

"TVA's failure to speedily install readily available pollution control technology is not, and has not been, reasonable conduct under the circumstances." -- U.S. District Judge Lacy Thornburg, in a ruling instructing TVA to clean up air pollution from four coal plants close to North Carolina

Bustin' a USCAP

Business/enviro alliance unveils climate plan, attracts critics

The United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a coalition of businesses and environmental groups, today released its Blueprint for Legislative Action [PDF] at a press conference on Capitol Hill, and then presented it to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. With climate legislation appearing imminent, USCAP members want a voice in shaping it -- and they seem to want to make sure it isn't too stringent. "Today, cap-and-trade legislation is a crucial component in fueling the bold clean energy investments necessary to catapult the U.S. again to preeminence in global energy and environmental policy, strengthen the country's international competitiveness, and create millions of rewarding new American jobs," said Jeff Immelt, chair and CEO of General Electric, a USCAP member. Other corporate members of USCAP include General Motors, Ford, Duke Energy, Dow Chemical, and ConocoPhillips. The coalition also includes a handful of big green groups: Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and the World Resources Institute. WRI President Jonathan Lash issued a statement praising the document and the partnership that produced it. "The health of our economy and the safety of our climate are inextricably linked, except nature doesn't do bailouts," said Lash. "USCAP has redefined what is possible. If the diverse membership of USCAP can find common ground, Congress can agree on effective legislation." But one environmental group, the National Wildlife Federation, pulled out of the partnership rather than sign on to the blueprint. In a statement to The Washington Post, NWF called USCAP "a welcome, strong force for action," but said it would work separately to "enact a cap-and-invest bill that measures up to what scientists say is needed and makes bold investments in a clean energy economy."

Convenient facts about an inconvenient truth, part 2

A detailed look at building, industry, transportation, and land-use greenhouse-gas emissions

Greenhouse gases come in two basic flavors: carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, and emissions from land use -- agriculture, forests, peat bogs, and waste management. Fossil fuels are primarily used for energy in three sectors: buildings, industry, and transportation. Transportation is almost entirely oil-based -- according to the International Energy Association, about 0.1 percent of transportation energy currently comes from electricity. Just to make things complicated, people use fossil fuels to make electricity to use in buildings and industry. Well, actually, we use fossil fuels to make electricity -- and -- we use fossil fuels to make heat to use in buildings and industry. In my previous post, I presented some pretty exciting tables summarizing this global state of affairs (and the accompanying Google workbook). Now, in part 2, a detailed look at building, industry, transportation, and land-use emissions:

Big Oil: 'World has reached peak petroleum'

Half of oil and gas CFOs say we are peaking

It's amazing enough that the normally staid International Energy Agency recently said we've run out of time. Now Business Wire reports: According to a new survey by BDO Seidman, LLP, one of the nation's leading accounting and consulting organizations, 48 percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) at U.S. oil and gas exploration and production companies agree that the world has reached its peak petroleum (liquid hydrocarbon) production rate or will reach it within the next few years, while another 52 percent disagree with that statement. I think the headline is wrong, though: Energy CFOs Are Split on World's Peak Petroleum Production Rate, According to BDO Seidman, LLP. Chief Financial Officers at exploration and production companies are arguably the most cautious "show me the money" people in the entire energy business. The news is not that they are split. The news is that half think we are peaking or soon will.

From Detroit with love

A photo tour of the green concepts and cars from North American Int'l Auto Show

The North American International Auto Show opened in Detroit with a bang. Literally. Apparently, the Chrysler Pentastar fell from the ceiling and startled a cluster of journalists as well as billionaire investor Wilbur Ross and his entourage. No one was hurt, but the portentous crash may be more than symbolic for the American auto industry if their bets on electric and hybrid vehicles fail to deliver, or if China's BYD motors beats them to the punch with their plug-in F3DM. Though subdued -- Chrysler left the steer back at the ranch this year -- the more "rational" Detroit Auto Show saw more hybrid and electric vehicles debuts than first-generation Prius-owners could have possibly imagined 10 years-ago. The Chrysler Circuit, Lexus HS 250h, third-generation Toyota Prius, new Honda Insight, Fisker Karma S, Lincoln Concept C, BMW Concept-7, and the smart ed -- which will be powered by Tesla batteries -- comprise just a smattering of the electric and hybrid concepts and production models that will start to roll off respective assembly lines by the end of this year. Check out the photo slideshow from Detroit below. To see the photo captions, click to enlarge and then press "show info" in the flickr slideshow. Photos courtesy of

Tempest in a stock pot

White House chefs and the limits of personal choice

About a month ago, high-profile foodies got pretty amped up about whom Obama would choose as White House chef. Three of them -- Berkeley sustainable food doyenne Alice Waters, Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, and New York City restaurateur Denny Mayer -- even got together to pen a letter urging the incoming president to replace the current White House chef with someone who chooses locally grown, organic food -- preferably sourced from an on-site vegetable garden. According to a New York Times account, the letter states: A person of integrity who is devoted to the ideals of sustainability and health would send a powerful message that food choices matter. Supporting seasonal, ripe delicious American food would not only nourish your family, it would support our farmers, inspire your guests, and energize the nation. Last week, Obama defied this gentle effort to convince him to send the incumbent chef packing. Cristeta Comerford, who has been in charge of cooking first-family meals for the Bushes since 2005, will retain her post, the Obama team announced. My first reaction to this news was disappointment. After choosing an agribiz-friendly pol as USDA chief, couldn't Obama at least make a symbolic nod in the direction of the sustainable-food movement by picking a new chef? Now I'm not sure what the fuss was about in the first place.

China's BYD to bring plug-in hybrid, electric cars to U.S. in 2011

DETROIT, Michigan, Jan. 12, 2009 (AFP) — China’s BYD Auto announced plans Monday to enter the U.S. market in 2011 with a range of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. It would likely be the first Chinese automaker to enter the highly-competitive U.S. market and beat many established automakers in offering an extended-range electric vehicle to U.S. consumers. General Motors, Chrysler, and Nissan are expected to be the first to introduce electric cars in small quantities to the United States in 2010. Toyota expects to introduce a plug-in hybrid at the end of this year and a two-seater electric car in …

Coal-fired power: Still expensive

Another rate increase in the name of cheap coal

Duke Energy just got approval to raise rates 18 percent to cover the continued rising price tag for its 630-MW planned coal plant in southwestern Indiana. The new price tag? $2.35 billion, or $3,730/kW. By my highly unscientific but quixotically regular analysis, that's a new record, just topping AEP's $3,700/kW proposed facility in Virginia. Way to go, Duke! One note: This plant will not sequester its CO2, and $2.35 billion does not represent the full cost being borne by Indiana ratepayers: On Wednesday, the commission also approved Duke Energy's $17 million plan to study the plant's potential to capture a portion of its carbon dioxide emissions as part of the company's proposal to possibly store the gas permanently deep underground. So not only is it expensive, but it's also environmentally dangerous. But if we throw a few million ratepayer dollars at "studying" CO2 sequestration, maybe we can put a nice report together showing that someday in the future, it will only be expensive. This apparently was insufficient to appease the environmental community: Environmental and government watchdog groups oppose the plant and have sued to try to halt it, calling the project a huge waste of money that would be better spent on renewable energy such as wind farms. They also warn that its price tag could go even higher if Congress acts to impose caps on carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming. Crazy hippies. When will they learn? We need to burn more coal and raise power prices because coal is cheap. Why is that so hard to understand?