- What Comes Next for the Keystone XL Pipeline?
- Obama has Nearly Quadrupled Renewable Energy on Public Lands
- Top U.S. Climate Policy Stories of 2011
Posted: 01 Jan 2012 08:13 AM PST
The Keystone XL Pipeline is probably one of the last great infrastructure projects of the petroleum era in the U.S., and it will face a pivotal moment some time before the end of February. President Obama is under a two-month deadline to approve or disapprove the massive pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s notorious Alberta Tar Sands down to the midwest and on through to refineries on the Gulf Coast. But heck, why wait two months? Given the conditions of the deadline, President Obama might as well go ahead and cancel the project tomorrow.
Pipeline Politics in an Election Year
The two-month deadline was set by Republicans in Congress, as a rider attached to the new spending bill. Before the rider was voted through, the State Department already warned that two months was not enough time for it to conduct its customary review of a cross-border project (the pipeline is own by TransCanada, a Canadian company). No review, no pipeline – simple, right? In that respect, the rider is a transparent setup that forces the Obama Administration to cancel a massive job-creating infrastructure project in advance of the 2012 elections. If the President truly is boxed into a corner with no way out, why wait until the end of February to cancel the project? Might as well do it now and get it over with.
Organized Labor and the Keystone Pipeline
There has been some talk that President Obama could override the State Department and approve the project. But viewed through the lens of election year politics, the President has little to gain from taking extraordinary measures to push the project through. Sure, the pipeline would create jobs and pump money into the economy, but it does not boast monolithic support from organized labor, one of the President’s key constituencies. A recent post over at Rolling Stone conjectured that approval would pacify the oil industry in advance of the elections, but it’s more likely that the industry will continue bashing the President, directly or through lobbying groups, no matter how many pipelines he approves.
More Energy Jobs for Rural America
One reason why organized labor may continue to support President Obama if he cancels the Keystone pipeline is the Administration’s solid track record of creating jobs in alternative energy, energy conservation, and new energy research and development. That includes the Re-Powering American’s Land initiative, which reclaims brownfields for solar and wind installations, the AgSTAR manure-to-biogas program for livestock farmers, and the REAP biofuel program to create jobs in growing biofuel crops as well as transportation and refining. What these programs have in common is their potential for enabling sustainable economic growth in and around small towns and communities in rural areas, without imposing the kind of public health and environmental risks inherent in the Keystone project.
New Energy Jobs and National Defense
Unlike the Keystone project, all of these initiatives directly support President Obama’s energy policy, which is focused on transitioning the U.S. away from fossil fuels, both foreign and domestic, with long term national defense strategy in mind. The Department of Defense has
already made it clear that its future capabilities rest on that a strong domestic biofuel industry along with other forms of alternative energy, and that in turn depends on preserving soil and water quality throughout America’s key agricultural regions, where the Keystone pipeline would insert an unwelcome element of risk.
To Approve or Disapprove: That is the Question
If President Obama decides to cancel the pipeline he would be a hero not only to nationally organized environmental groups, but also to the many local citizens, elected officials and business owners who oppose the pipeline, without necessarily losing significant support from organized labor. On the other hand, given the intensity of Canada’s investment in the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone pipeline, backstage diplomatic considerations could swing the decision. The only real question now is, why wait another two months to face the inevitable?
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 31 Dec 2011 06:55 PM PST
With two years of the Obama administration, almost four times as much clean energy has been put on the grid on public lands as in all the previous 40 years.
All the renewable energy ever permitted on public lands totaled 1,800 MW by the end of 2008. In the last two years, the Department of the Interior has approved 6,600 MW of new projects.
Rapid and responsible fast track utility-scale production of clean energy is a solution to the climate destabilization caused by continuing the reliance on fossil energy.
These approvals for 25 utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands are enough to power 2.3 million out of the 102 million American households. Not all the renewable projects are on public land.
With two new approvals this week – in which just the transmission and roads associated with them is on public lands – the total DOI approvals cover 27 utility-scale renewable energy projects.
These include 16 solar projects, 4 wind farms and 7 geothermal plants. A boost in staff capable of reviewing renewable energy permits resulted in the much faster pace of approvals, according to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar.
The uptick in clean energy permits marks a real change in US energy on government-owned land. Public lands have traditionally been approved for oil and gas leases which generate federal revenues of between $5 billion and $6 billion a year. To get an idea of the scale of this change, the total for the two years of Obama renewable energy projects approved will generate just under $1 billion a year to the federal coffers: $786 million annually.
Under $1 billion of annual federal revenue from clean energy may seem like peanuts compared with the $6 billion from oil and gas, but bear in mind that these annual lease earnings cover a period all the way back to the beginning of oil with The Mining Law of 1872, while these new clean energy permits cover a mere two years worth of leases.
The last one to be approved in 2011 was the Centinela Solar Energy Project in California, a 275-megawatt solar energy power plant that will connect via a 230-kilovolt transmission line to the existing San Diego Gas & Electric Imperial Valley Substation.
Although it is one of two approved by Interior to be built on private land, the DOI approved a 19-acre public land right-of-way to build the power line.
Like all renewable energy projects, these 27 underwent extensive environmental review and reflect strong efforts to mitigate potential environmental impacts. For example, the Centinela project required not just that the developer install the transmission lines, but also buy 80 acres of additional habitat for the flat-tailed horned lizard, bringing the project to 2,067 acres.
The Wilderness Society, which has long been lobbying the White House for reform on how electrical grids are planned, built and managed, supported the new approach to rapid deployment.
"Secretary Salazar has laid the foundation for our nation's entrepreneurs to harness the planet's wind, sun, heat and other renewable energy sources in a manner that safeguards the wildlife and natural resources that help keep American communities healthy, safe, and prosperous," Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows said when the DOI laid out this plan at the beginning of this administration.
Posted: 31 Dec 2011 10:53 AM PST
Here’s one last year-end round-up, a good one on U.S. climate policy from the World Resources Institute that I figured I had to share:
by Kevin Kennedy
As the year winds down, it's a good time to take stock of climate policy in the United States. Here's a quick round up of what happened – or didn't happen – in 2011.
The year began with big questions about what the Obama Administration and states would do to address climate change and clean energy, absent a comprehensive federal climate policy. This year's record was decidedly mixed. Not as much happened as some would have liked, but it was in total better than many feared as the year began.
The clearest objective benchmark is how well the U.S. is doing against the administration's target of reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Our assessment is that the administration is making progress to keep the 17 percent target within sight, but it will require a sustained effort in 2012 and beyond to reach the goal. WRI has been tracking the actions by U.S. federal agencies – click on the pie chart below to explore the interactive tool.
Following is our "Top 6" list of climate actions for 2011:
1. Congress Didn't Act
Coming into 2011, a big question was how far Congress would go (and how far the administration would go along) in slowing or stopping action by the EPA and other federal agencies. While the House repeatedly approved anti-environment and anti-climate measures, those efforts did not make it through the Senate. In a sign of strength, the administration has consistently signaled that President Obama would veto such measures if they ever got to his desk.
Another question was what would happen as a result of President Obama's call in the State of the Union addressfor a clean energy standard that would set a goal of generating 80 percent of the country's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. While the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee issued a white paper for comment, no further action was taken. Senator Bingaman, the committee chairman, has indicated that he intends to introduce clean energy standard legislation in 2012.
2. National Vehicle Rules Established
The biggest bright spot on the domestic climate front was the administration's announcement that it would raise national vehicle fuel standards to 54.5 miles per gallon. These standards for cars and light trucks will reduce U.S. emissions from vehicles by nearly 50 percent by 2025. The EPA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards and efficiency standards for vehicles with model years 2012 through 2016, and proposed new standards for model years through 2025.
In addition, EPA and DOT finalized the nation's first ever efficiency standards and GHG emissions standards for medium- and heavy‐duty vehicles such as tractor trailers and buses. The EPA estimates that these standards will reduce CO2 emissions by 270 million metric tons over the life of the vehicles covered by the rules.
3. California Moves Ahead
California continues to implement its comprehensive statewide climate program, which combines targeted measures to achieve emission reductions in particular sectors with a broad multi‐sector GHG cap‐and‐trade program. California has one‐eighth of the national economy and is the eighth largest economy in the world, so action in California is significant.
The regulations governing the cap‐and‐trade program were finalized this year, setting the stage for the system to come into operation in 2013. As part of the Western Climate Initiative, California is looking to link its program with that in Quebecstarting in 2013, and with programs in Ontario and British Columbia once those are established.
4. RGGI Delivers Economic Benefits
The first compliance period will soon be coming to a close for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a greenhouse gas cap–and-trade program for the electricity sector in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. A recent analysis concluded that RGGI has injected $1.6 billion into the region's economy and created 16,000 jobs, while reducing energy bills by $1.3 billion. A key driver of this success has been the region's investment in energy efficiency.
While New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie has announced his intention to withdraw New Jersey from RGGI, it is not clear if that will go through. Meanwhile, the other nine states are currently undertaking a program review that could lead to program enhancements, such as an increase in stringency.
5. EPA Makes Slow Progress on GHG Rules
EPA has continued to move ahead with most of its planned regulations on power plants, which produce about one-third of U.S. GHG emissions, though it has not met all of its deadlines. EPA is scheduled to release GHG rules for the power sector, originally due out in June, 2011, in early 2012, though these are expected to cover only new power plants. It is not clear when the more important guidelines for existing plants will be issued. The implementation of these rules will be an important marker to watch if the country is going to reach the 17% reduction target.
EPA also moved forward with regulations to reduce other forms of pollution from power plants, such as mercury, SO2 and NOx. These rules could lead to greenhouse gas benefits by promoting generation from cleaner, more efficient power plants over generation from older, more polluting ones. However, in a major setback for environmental protection and public health, new rules for ozone were delayed until 2013 In addition, in July, the EPA proposed a suite of regulations that would reduce harmful air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry. While the rules focus on reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds, they are expected to substantially reduce the emissions of methane, a very potent GHG, from oil and gas operations, including from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to produce shale gas.
6. Emissions Continue to Climb
While the global economic downturn resulted in reduced GHG emissions in 2009, that trend is no longer the case. In September, the International Energy Agency reported that 2010 was a record year for emissions globally. The recent rise in emissions highlights the need for further action by the United States to go further in reducing emissions.
Time will tell if the country meets its 17 percent target. New climate and energy legislation would make the target easier to reach, but even without legislation, we believe this is still possible with sustained effort. And we'll be watching to see how far Congress and the administration get in 2012 and beyond.
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