Business & Technology

Not so cheap when you have to clean up your own mess

Stiffer regulation of coal ash would cost the industry billions

If I've said it once I've said it, oh, around eleven kazillion times now: "coal is cheap" because the coal industry externalizes costs. Take, for instance, coal ash. It contains several substances that are classified as toxics individually, but the ash itself isn't thus classified. That means it can be stored in enormous pools with no liners, behind earthen dams that, as the disaster in Tennessee illustrates again, periodically fail. What would happen if ash were classified as toxic? The answer can be found in this stellar piece from Bloomberg. Increased regulation would bring costs to upgrade or close more than 600 landfills and waste ponds at 440 plants nationwide. While the Environmental Protection Agency put the price tag at $1 billion a year in 2000, power generators predict the cost would be as high as $5 billion, said Jim Roewer, executive director of the industry-funded Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, in a telephone interview. Why so costly? An EPA report in 2000 found a quarter of retention ponds and 57 percent of landfills lacked liners to prevent pollution from leaking into nearby water supplies, though the 2007 follow-up study found such controls more common at newer sites. So much for cheap. Also note this macabre/hilarious bit:

Brit's Eye View: Wise after the event

The insurance industry is making strides on climate, but has further to go

After another year full of unpleasant surprises, you’d think the insurance sector would be ratcheting up its response to big risks like climate change. The U.K. industry has about $15 trillion of assets under management, so the potential to play a significant role in getting others to factor in climate change looks substantial. A new initiative in London is showing the global industry how to go about it. ClimateWise was launched in 2007 by the Prince of Wales. His view was that “if insurance companies could take a strategic view across all aspects of what they do and look at …

The de-greening of America and China

How the U.S. and China can help, not harm, each other

So this is how it worked: Instead of greening our manufacturing base, amping up our recycling system, and competing on the basis of better production technology, we shipped our production to China, which is busy polluting itself and spewing carbon dioxide. In return, the Chinese took the hundreds of billions from sales to the U.S. and reinvested the money here, helping to make our sprawl even spawlier and our military even more wasteful. According to an article from The New York Times, “Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble”: In the 19th century, the United States built its railroads with capital …

Coal blogging is fun!

Coal front group sets up ‘Blogger Brigade’ to fight reality

Originally posted at the Wonk Room. The coal industry is attempting to organize bloggers to promote their false “clean coal” propaganda. The Reality Coalition, a group of national environmental organizations, have begun airing the message that “There’s no such thing as clean coal,” to counter the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by coal-powered corporations to pretend that coal is a “clean” fuel. So the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) and Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), essentially one coal propaganda group with two different faces, is fighting back with an email blast asking people to join their …

Goodbye to the clamshell?

I rarely buy be-clamshelled merchandise any more, but I remember it with horror, so this seems like excellent news:

Obama says trade agreements must protect environment

Any trade agreements signed by soon-to-be-President Barack Obama must “[preserve] the planet we all share,” the president-elect declared Friday. Chief trade negotiator nominee Ron Kirk concurred: “[A] values-driven agenda that stays true to our commitment to … environmental sustainability is not only consistent with a pro-trade agenda, but it’s also necessary for its success.” Obama previously promised to work with Mexico and Canada to add stronger labor and environmental provisions to NAFTA.

Umbra on eco-friendly detergents

Dear Umbra, Like a good guilt-ridden liberal, I’ve switched to supposed earth-friendly dish detergent. And, on the basis of previous Ask Umbra columns, I don’t rinse my dirty dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Here’s the thing: About 10 percent of items are still dirty when the dishwasher pronounces things clean. So then I rewash these items, either by hand or (perhaps futilely) in the dishwasher. Doesn’t seem terribly eco-friendly. Scott D. South Portland, Maine. Dearest Scott, No one said being an environmentalist would be a tiptoe through the tulips. There are going to be setbacks, struggles, moments when …

Idaho's progressive utility rules

Rewarding utilities for conservation success through ‘decoupling’

Utilities are among the few remaining large companies that are relatively solvent and profitable. Harnessing their might to offer retrofits for all would be a powerful step toward economic stimulus. But most utilities in Cascadia are conflicted about helping their customers save energy. On the one hand, they’re legally obligated to do it. On the other hand, if they do it successfully, they don’t make as much money. Resolving this conflict in favor of conservation requires an innovative form of utility regulation called “decoupling.” A decoupled utility makes profits not in proportion to its sales but in proportion to its …

Financing retrofits for all, II

Mysteries of on-bill financing revealed!

In my last post, I described a nonprofit bank’s program for financing building energy retrofits, as a way to speed the green-collar recovery. Here, I describe two new, innovative approaches to financing efficiency upgrades in buildings — meter loans and local improvement districts — and one old-school, utility-run approach that may be the best bet of all. First, though, a couple more points about the challenges of financing energy efficiency improvements in buildings. One big challenge is to guarantee that retrofits will save enough money to repay the loans, not only on average across all buildings but also in each …

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