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What role coal?

The chair of the Select Committee on Global Warming weighs in

Congress is about to confront the challenge of coal, and much of what we hope to do to reduce the threat of global warming hinges on these decisions. There's a useful test to use whenever the challenges of fossil fuel dependence and global warming come up: We must reduce the threat of global warming without worsening our dependence on foreign oil; and we must reduce the threat of oil dependence without worsening global warming. When it comes to coal, it's that second part of the equation that brings up some sticky issues. Coal has been a big part of our …

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The most powerful force in nature

Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge … must … jump …

The most powerful force in nature isn't the nuclear force, or anything wimpy like that; it's the force of a bad idea whose moment has arrived. Whenever I wanted to do something stupid and argued that my friends had done it, Mom would always say, "If Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do that too?" From The Oregonian: A bill backed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to give a big boost to biofuels use and production in Oregon passed the Senate Revenue Committee unanimously Tuesday and heads to the Senate floor for final approval. The bill, House Bill 2210, …

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Many policies, one goal

It’s all about raising the price of carbon

Robert Reich -- Secretary of Labor under Clinton, economic policy professor/pundit -- has a somewhat confused column up advocating for a "carbon auction." In particular, it's not clear whether he's talking about politics or policy, which is a confusion that generally plagues this discussion. He rejects a carbon tax because it will be politically unpopular. The holy-and-sanctified Middle Class won't put up with it. He rejects a cap-and-trade system because it would give the most credits to the biggest polluters, a la the initial attempt in Europe. The Goldilocksian just-right proposal? A "carbon auction," which is ... a cap-and-trade system …

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Energy, economics, and the environment

Political courage needed for change

Getting our energy policy right does not require new technology, added societal cost, or economic disruption. However, it does require the political courage to question the sacred cows that have shaped 100 years of electric-market regulation. A few ideas that are missing from the energy debate: Fossil fuel use in the U.S. is split approximately in thirds between transportation fuels, electric power generation, and heat generation (buildings, industrials, etc.). GHG emissions track accordingly. The electric industry is -- with very limited exceptions -- a regulated monopoly, subject to cost-plus pricing. This has been the case for 100 years. In other …

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Sweden, lead'n

An entire nation of sexy beasts

There is a large amount of literature discussing the "Resource Curse" (sometimes called the Oil Curse, but established before that for silver, gold, etc.), in which countries blessed with an abundance of a desirable resource often turn into kleptocracies ruled by thugs. Oddly, countries like Japan and Taiwan, with few (if any) local resources, often soar because their cultures build in a premium on efficiency ... It appears that Sweden -- while not as resource poor as many others, but certainly not as resource rich as most other developed nations -- enjoys the same advantage. As my adviser used to …

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Umbra on solar funding

Dear Umbra, I have been looking high and low regarding ongoing tax credits and incentives for solar installations on private residences. I may be looking for something that doesn't even exist, but the rumors certainly do. Is there some website I can confer with to see if there really is such a thing? I have already received the initial installation credit, but, as I said, I have heard of new tax laws regarding ongoing, slowly decreasing credits. I can't take this to my tax lady without having SOME KIND of something or other in black and white for her to …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Seven truths about China and climate change

That you won’t hear in the mainstream media

China has officially passed the U.S. as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. This is likely to prompt a lot of misinformation and obfuscation from the usual quarters. So here are some simple truths about China and global warming that everyone should remember as the debate proceeds. 1. The U.S. still vastly outpaces China in terms of per-capita GHG emissions, and will for the foreseeable future. That's because the U.S. is a much more industrialized and richer country, with a GDP of around $13.2 trillion compared to China's of $2.5 trillion. 2. The West in general and the U.S. …

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Quench Warners

Desalination won't solve world's water woes, report says Another high-tech environmental solution may be going out the window: a new report from the World Wildlife Fund says desalinating water could hurt more than it helps. Estimating that there are more than 10,000 desalination plants around the world, WWF says the energy-intensive practice of filtering salt out of seawater can harm marine life and generates large amounts of greenhouse-gas emissions that may actually threaten the planet's freshwater supplies through climate-change-induced drought and glacial melt. "The quite possibly mistaken lure of widespread water availability from desalination ... has the potential to drive …

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And They’re Off

China overtakes United States as world's biggest polluter, agency says The United States is no longer the world's biggest polluter. That honor goes to China, which emitted some 8 percent more carbon dioxide in 2006 than Bushland, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. But on a per-person basis, Americans pollute roughly four to five times more than folks in China. And while the emissions surge is tied to a booming industrial landscape -- China opens the equivalent of two coal-fired power plants each week -- that growth is spurred in part by Western consumers buying goods made in China, …

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Native Energy Alaska offsets

Legit or not?

While writing about medium wind in Alaska, I ran into information that led me to believe there were some questionable offsets involved with the project. More extensive research, including interviews with Brent Petrie of AVEC and Tom Stoddard of Native Energy, have revealed a more complicated situation, one that still doesn't look good to me. Here is what the situation looks like at first glance: AVEC has installed wind turbines that produce electricity for around 15 cents per kWh, according to the interview on which the first post was based. That 15 cents per kWh wind is displacing 45 cents …