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Username: Lowell Feld NRDC Action Fund
PersonId: 7120
Created: Wed Jun 23, 2010 at 11:55 AM CDT
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Stop the Senate from Gutting the Clean Air Act!


by: Lowell Feld NRDC Action Fund

Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 01:49 PM CDT

Just when you thought the U.S. Senate couldn't do any less for clean energy and the environment than it's (not) done so far, we now face the real possibility of what would amount to a "stop-work order" on the 40-year-old, wildly successful (e.g., studies finding benefits outweighing costs at a 40:1 ratio), Clean Air Act.

That's right: believe it or not, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is moving ahead with a sequel to Sen. Lisa Murkowski's nefarious attempt, earlier this summer, to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s power to protect the public health from dangerous pollutants, including harmful greenhouse gases.  Just as bad, Rockefeller's proposal would keep America addicted to oil and other old, polluting energy technologies, while delaying or derailing our switch to a clean, prosperous energy economy.  

Essentially, what Rockefeller is proposing would tell the EPA – at least for two years, although we know that justice delayed is often justice denied! - that it has to be asleep at the switch, that it must not hold polluters accountable, that it must look the other way whole Big Oil and Big Coal trash the environment. Is that the lesson the Senate learned from the Gulf of Mexico disaster?  Really?

Fortunately, not everyone is so clueless as the U.S. Senate appears to be right now.  For instance, in yesterday's Politico, two energy investors – one Democrat, one Republican – explained what's at stake in clear, compelling language.

We are not experts in vote counting or horse trading. But we do know how investors and markets will respond if Congress ultimately fails to put a market-based price on carbon. The response from capital will be brutal: Money will flow to places like China, Europe and India — and U.S. jobs will go with it.

The path to creating more U.S. jobs is simple: Pass legislation that eliminates uncertainty and levels the playing field, and investors will fund projects that create good jobs here at home. Rules bring certainty, certainty spurs investment, and investment creates jobs.

[...]

Take it from investors: Removing the uncertainty, and taking a more thoughtful approach to energy policy by putting a market price on carbon, can bring home new investments and jobs — and ensure that America leads the clean energy economy.

Instead, it now looks like the Senate not only won't be moving us forwards, but instead will be trying to move us significantly – and disastrously - backwards. What's truly stunning about this possibility is that, right now, the science of climate change is clearer and more disturbing than ever.  Heat waves are getting worse, the ice caps are shrinking faster than ever, and scientists are telling us that the world is setting new temperature records almost every month, every year, and every decade.   In addition, the results of our insatiable thirst for fossil fuels were demonstrated starkly and tragically, both in a West Virginia coal mine as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, on TV screens all across America in recent months.  As if all this isn't bad enough, we also could run out of water.

The American people know this situation can't go on. In fact, recent polls show large majorities supporting an energy bill that would "[l]imit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy...by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like gas." In other words, this is a case where good policy – limiting greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing our national security, safeguarding public health, jumpstarting a clean energy revolution – and good politics – strong poll results for doing just that - appear to align.  Yet, the U.S. Senate appears ready to ignore both good policy and good politics, and actually move to make matters worse by gutting the EPA and letting polluters like BP off the hook.

Don’t let them do it.  Call your Senators right now and tell them "hell no" to the "Let Polluters Pollute with Impunity Act."  Also, while you’re at it, call the White House and tell President Obama that, if such a measure reaches his desk, he will veto it – no ifs, ands, or buts.

Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.

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No, Senator Klobuchar, More Corn Ethanol is NOT the Answer!


by: Lowell Feld NRDC Action Fund

Wed Jul 14, 2010 at 05:19 PM CDT

According to The Hill newspaper, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) "is introducing legislation to expand use of renewable electricity and transportation fuels that she says is a way to increase political support for broad energy legislation among farm-state lawmakers." Reuters adds that Klobuchar's legislation would promote "a long-term extension of biofuel tax breaks."  Klobuchar says, "it is time to look at home-grown energy and that includes biofuels and they should be part of this."

At first glance, that all sounds innocuous enough, but there's a major problem: Sen. Klobuchar is (cleverly) baiting the hook with a strong Renewable Energy Standard, which most environmentalists support, but at the same time she's also including the worst of the worst biofuels proposals – corn ethanol.  For instance, as Nathanael Greene of NRDC points out, Klobuchar's proposal includes a 5-year extension of the corn ethanol tax credit, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $30 billion.  Klobuchar's legislation also appears to redefine old-growth forests as "biomass," potentially promoting deforestation.   And Klobuchar's legislation would harm the development of truly advanced biofuels, in favor of corn ethanol.   There's more, but that's sufficient to give you a good idea of how misguided and potentially harmful this bill happens to be.

More broadly, the problem is that promoting corn ethanol actually would set us backwards on our climate and clean energy goals.   NRDC has written a great deal about corn-based ethanol, most of which is not flattering.

*From an NRDC article published in March 2010, we learn that "the current corn ethanol tax credit is effectively costing tax payers $4.18 per gallon and is driving up grain prices."  The author, Nathanael Greene, concludes that "[w]e don't need an additional 1.4 billion gallons of corn ethanol, or the higher prices for grains and more deforestation that come with it...It's time to transition from corn ethanol's pollution and pork to a new generation of more sustainable biofuels that brings us closer to real energy independence."

*From this NRDC article published in January 2010, it turns out that "The old, dirty ethanol industry is dominated by big companies like Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Poet." The author, Roland Hwang, adds, "It’s baffling why an industry that benefits from $4 billion a year in government subsidies can’t find a way to compete on environmental merits."

*As Nathanael Greene points out here, "the nitrogen runoff from corn grown all along the Mississippi causes a huge dead zone in the Gulf every summer."  And, "[w]ith about a third of the corn crop going to make corn ethanol, it should be clear that more corn ethanol is not a real solution."

In addition to NRDC, Barack Obama also weighed in during the 2008 presidential campaign, declaring that "we're going to have a transition from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol, not using food crops as the source of energy."

Last but not least, Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown and Clean Air Task Force Jonathan Lewis, writing in April 2008, explained in devastating terms why corn ethanol is so problematic:

It is now abundantly clear that food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy -- most of which comes from coal.

Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts, and some production facilities are reportedly dumping these in local water sources.

Third, food-to-fuel mandates are helping drive up the price of agricultural staples, leading to significant changes in land use with major environmental harm.

Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world's largest "carbon sink..."

Meanwhile, the mandates are not reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Last year, the United States burned about a quarter of its national corn supply as fuel -- and this led to only a 1 percent reduction in the country's oil consumption.

In short, the problem is that while "biofuels" sounds as benign as apple pie, corn ethanol – the main biofuel available today – is actually bad for the environment both in the U.S. and abroad, bad for the poor, and bad for the American taxpayer.

Just to be clear, ethanol from cellulosic material is a completely different – and far superior – story from other, advanced biofuels (e.g., cellulosic), but advanced biofuels are not what Senator Klobuchar's talking about here.  To the contrary, Senator Klobuchar is using this once-in-a-generation chance for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation, to push through a big agribusiness, corn ethanol boondoggle that will harm the environment, do nothing to reduce U.S. dependence on oil or to help strengthen U.S. national security.

Yes, we want increased production of renewable energy like wind and solar. Yes, biofuels done the right way could be an important part of the U.S. energy mix.  But no, Sen. Klobuchar's approach – promoting dirty, old corn ethanol - is simply not the correct approach to the energy and environmental challenges we are facing.

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Murkowski Part II Rears Its Ugly Head


by: Lowell Feld NRDC Action Fund

Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 03:53 PM CDT

On June 10th, we all celebrated the defeat of the Murkowski resolution, which would have gutted the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide pollution.  Why we needed to defeat Murkowski was explained well by NRDC Action Fund Executive Director, Peter Lehner, who wrote the following prior to the vote:

EPA's proactive lead in greenhouse gas regulation is a critical aspect of the effort to reduce our rampant, destabilizing, and destructive dependence on foreign and offshore oil.  While the endangerment finding does not, in itself, prescribe regulations, it provides the legal basis for critical standards: EPA's proposed CAFE efficiency standard for light-duty vehicles is projected to save over 455 million barrels per year, and an anticipated standard for heavy-duty vehicles will save billions more.  Stripping EPA of its authority to implement these protections would increase our nation's dependence on oil and send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas.  We cannot afford this big step backward, especially as we watch more oil gush into the Gulf each day.

In the end, the Senate didn't take that "big step backward" on June 10th, as the Murkowski resolution failed by a 47-53 vote.   Many of us probably figured that was the end of this issue, and that the Senate would now move on to passing comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation.  Unfortunately, as is often the case in Washington, DC, it isn't that simple (let alone logical).

Today, clean air and public health are once again under an assault that constitutes, essentially, "Murkowski Part II."  The Wall Street Journal reported on June 22:

As U.S. Senate lawmakers attempt to determine the fate of energy legislation, an influential Democrat is boosting efforts to suspend a controversial greenhouse-gas rule passed earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

After introducing a bill to impose a two-year halt on the new EPA rule, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia, is now working to round up supporters for his legislation.

It should go without saying that this is completely unacceptable.  As we all know, the public was outraged at Senator Murkowski's Big Oil Bailout bill.  They understood that this moved the country backward, not forward, and that it was exactly the wrong way to go given the energy and environmental challenges we face.  Through all our efforts, our phone calls and emails (and blog posts and tweets, etc.), we helped to kill Murkowski Part I.  Now, unfortunately, Sen. Jay Rockefeller is pushing Murkowski Part II, yet there's far less attention being paid to this effort than to the Murkowski's EPA Castration Resolution Part I.   People have a lot of other things on their minds, and they thought this fight was over back in June.  But, once they find out that this effort is baaaaack, like a monster in a cheesy horror movie, they are not going to respond positively.  

Of course, why would the public - which overwhelmingly supports taking action to promote clean energy and deal with climate change - ever respond positively to a proposal aimed at throwing away one of our key tools to cut pollution and protect public health?  And why would they respond positively now of all times, as oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico, as record heat waves scorch the United States, and as climate science is strengthened every day that goes by?  Last but not least, why would they support an effort to protect the corporate polluters and not all of us who are being hurt by that pollution?

The bottom line is simple: instead of wasting its time on legislation that will only move the country backwards - towards dirty energy forever - the Senate should be busy passing a bill that moves the country forward towards a bright future of green energy, clean tech jobs, energy security and climate protection.   Once our Senators hear that message loud and clear from all of us, Rockefeller's Murkowski Part II will be rejected by the Senate, just as Murkowski Part I was before it.

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More Nails in the Coffins of the Climate Change Deniers


by: Lowell Feld NRDC Action Fund

Wed Jul 07, 2010 at 11:38 AM CDT

As if we needed any more evidence demonstrating that anthropogenic climate change is real, that it is occurring right now, and that it poses a major threat to the planet's environment, we now have it -- in spades. Let's begin with the assessment by a Penn State University investigation, which completely exonerated climate scientist Michael Mann from any wrongdoing in the ridiculous, trumped-up, never-any-truth-to-it, pseudo-"scandal" known as "climate-gate." In reaction to this report, former House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) -- full disclosure, Boehlert's on the NRDC Action Fund board -- issued a statement which read:
This exoneration should close the book on the absurd episode in which climate scientists were unjustly attacked when in fact they have been providing a great public service. The attacks on scientists were a manufactured distraction, and today's report is a welcome return to common sense. While scientists can now focus on their work, policy makers need to address the very real problem of climate change.

Well said, Congressman, and keep up the great work, Professor Mann!

Next, just to pound the final nails into the coffins of the climate change deniers, a major, independent review by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency was released on July 5. The report's main conclusions were crystal clear:

  • "no errors that would undermine the main conclusions in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on possible future regional impacts of climate change"
  • "the summary conclusions are considered well founded, none have been found to contain any significant errors"
  • "ample observational evidence of regional climate change impacts, which have been projected to pose substantial risks to most parts of the world, under increasing temperatures"

In fairness, the Dutch report leveled several criticisms of the IPCC report: 1) even the few, minor errors shouldn't have been allowed to slip by; 2) the report's summary statement should have been written to provide a higher amount of transparency regarding its sources and methods; and 3) the report tended to focus solely on the adverse consequences of climate change, not on potentially positive impacts. These are non-trivial issues that need to be addressed. Having said that, as Joe Romm points out, "the overwhelming majority of research since the IPCC has found that the IPCC has consistently underestimated many key current and future impacts, particularly sea level rise (and carbon-cycle feedbacks)."

In the end, the bottom line from these reports is clear: the science behind human-induced climate change has emerged from this entire, ridiculous, episode overwhelmingly intact -- if not strengthened. The only real question now is, what are we going to do about it?

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Remember, Cap-and-Trade Was Originally a Free-Market, Conservative Idea


by: Lowell Feld NRDC Action Fund

Thu Jul 01, 2010 at 03:33 PM CDT

Once upon a time, "cap-and-trade" wasn't an object of conservative Republican opprobrium (e.g., as a "big government cap-and-tax scheme that will destroy our economy and end our way of life as we know it"). Actually, once up on a time, "cap-and-trade" was...wait for it...a conservative Republican idea! That's right, let's head to the "way back machine" and briefly review the Political History of Cap and Trade.
John B. Henry was hiking in Maine's Acadia National Park one August in the 1980s when he first heard his friend C. Boyden Gray talk about cleaning up the environment by letting people buy and sell the right to pollute. Gray, a tall, lanky heir to a tobacco fortune, was then working as a lawyer in the Reagan White House, where environmental ideas were only slightly more popular than godless Communism. "I thought he was smoking dope," recalls Henry, a Washington, D.C. entrepreneur. But if the system Gray had in mind now looks like a politically acceptable way to slow climate change-an approach being hotly debated in Congress-you could say that it got its start on the global stage on that hike up Acadia's Cadillac Mountain.

People now call that system "cap-and-trade." But back then the term of art was "emissions trading," though some people called it "morally bankrupt" or even "a license to kill." For a strange alliance of free-market Republicans and renegade environmentalists, it represented a novel approach to cleaning up the world-by working with human nature instead of against it.

Despite powerful resistance, these allies got the system adopted as national law in 1990, to control the power-plant pollutants that cause acid rain. With the help of federal bureaucrats willing to violate the cardinal rule of bureaucracy-by surrendering regulatory power to the marketplace-emissions trading would become one of the most spectacular success stories in the history of the green movement...

In the end, the conservative Republican-inspired "cap-and-trade" system for acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide was put into place by Republican President George HW Bush, who "not only accepted the cap, he overruled his advisers' recommendation of an eight million-ton cut in annual acid rain emissions in favor of the ten million-ton cut advocated by environmentalists." And it worked incredibly well, "cost[ing] utilities just $3 billion annually, not $25 billion... [and] by cutting acid rain in half, it also generates an estimated $122 billion a year in benefits from avoided death and illness, healthier lakes and forests, and improved visibility on the Eastern Seaboard."

In short, good things happened when we harnessed the tremendous power of the market to solve environmental problems. Today, the biggest and most pressing of those problems - identified, once again, by a massive amount of scientific research and evidence over several decades - is not acid rain, but global warming. And the proposed solution, once again, is the conservative, market-based "cap-and-trade" system. Strangely, however, it's conservative, market-based Republicans who have morphed into the loudest and most vociferous opponents of "cap-and-trade," while Democrats have become its biggest proponents.

Even stranger, as Climate Progress points out, many Republicans are now opposing - even "demagoguing" - against an idea they once supported! A short list includes: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who once said she supported cap-and-trade because she believed "it offers the opportunity to reduce carbon, at the least cost to society;" Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who once bragged that voting for "cap-and-trade" in Massachusetts was an "important step ... towards improving our environment;" Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who once asserted that cap-and-trade "will send a signal that will be heard and welcomed all across the American economy;" and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who used to believe that we should "set emission standards and let the best technology win." Actually, as Steve Benen at Washington Monthly points out, the McCain-Palin official website in 2008 promised that a McCain administration would "establish...a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

My, how times have changed in less than 2 years.

The point of all this is simple. Cap-and-trade is not some dastardly scheme to destroy the U.S. economy. Cap-and-trade is not radical, either. In fact, cap-and-trade is a tried, true, tested and proven, market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost. It worked with acid rain, far faster and cheaper than anyone predicted. Why would it be any different with carbon dioxide than sulfur dioxide? And why would Republicans oppose their own idea, after watching it produce one of the biggest environmental victories in U.S. history, on the gravest environmental threat facing our country and our planet? Even more, why would Republicans oppose an idea that -- even if you put aside the issue of global warming -- is still imperative - for urgent economic (e.g., sending $400 billion overseas every year to pay for imported oil) and national security (sending that $400 billion to a lot of countries that aren't our friends, are building nuclear weapons programs, etc.) reasons?

It's hard to think of any good reasons, how about some bad ones? Because, in the end, that's about all the cap-and-trade naysayers have left.

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President Obama, Please Call Their Bluff!


by: Lowell Feld NRDC Action Fund

Wed Jun 30, 2010 at 11:17 AM CDT

Yesterday, President Obama met with Senators at the White House and pushed them to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Still, the skeptics are spinning a monotonous web of negativity regarding what is achievable on this front.  And, not surprisingly, the "mainstream media" once again has been asleep at the wheel in setting the record straight.  Fortunately, we know that when this President rolls up his sleeves, he gets stuff done and delivers on his promises. One thing’s for sure; President Obama is anything but an underachiever!

Along these lines, President Obama held a press conference following the G-20 summit in Toronto.  In response to a reporter’s question regarding how he would achieve his deficit reduction goals, the president responded:

For some reason people keep being surprised when I do what I said I was going to do. So, I say I’m going to reform our [health care system], and people say well gosh that’s not smart politics maybe we should hold off. Or I say we’re going to move forward on [Don’t Ask Don’t Tell] and somehow people say well why are you doing that, I’m not sure that’s good politics. I’m doing it because I said I was going to do it, and I think it’s the right thing to do. And people should learn that lesson about me, because next year when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficit and debt step up cause I’m calling their bluff.

To that list of accomplishments, we could also add:

  • Almost single-handedly saving the Copenhagen Climate Summit from failure.
  • Preventing Great Depression Part II. 
  • Creating or saving 2.2-2.8 million jobs, well on the way to Obama’s February 2009 pledge that he would "create or save 3-and-a-half million jobs over the next two years." 
  • Reforming Wall Street (likely to pass Congress any day now)
  • Overhauling the student loan market 
  • Reaching a nuclear arms treaty with Russia

We could go on and on, but you get the point: anyone who continues, at this point, to be "surprised" when President Obama gets things done when he puts his mind to it is deep in denial. Or, as a previous president might have put it, they are wildly "misunderestimating" our 44th president.

Clearly, as we’ve seen over the past two years, underachieving is not a problem Barack Obama suffers from.  Of course, even a superachiever like Barack Obama has an awful lot on his plate to deal with. And right now, one of the most important things on Obama’s plate is figuring out how to push comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation through the U.S. Senate.   Along those lines, yesterday, Obama met with a group of Senators on this issue, reportedly holding firm in his call for putting a price on carbon emissions.

The question at this point is, will President Obama roll up his sleeves and deliver on another of his major campaign promise (as well as a major challenge facing our nation)?  Given the long list of accomplishments mentioned above, it certainly wouldn’t be smart to bet against him.  The fact is, Barack Obama usually succeeds in whatever he puts his mind to.

Given the nation’s increased focus on energy and climate issues – and the increased support by the American people for taking strong action as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster – now is clearly the time for boldness and for bluff calling by our nation’s leaders.  Today, President Obama has the opportunity to demonstrate once more that, when he rolls up his sleeves, he accomplishes what he says he’s going to do.  In sum, today is clearly the moment for President Obama to prove the doubters and naysayers wrong – to call their bluff - yet again!

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