Around the Blogs: The Benefits of Density

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 21 Feb 2008 18:34:00 GMT

Alex Steffen at WorldChanging in January, with My Other Car is a Bright Green City (edited for publication in BusinessWeek), and Allison Arieff at the New York Times’s By Design blog on Monday, with Is Your House Making You Look Fat?, take involved and interesting looks at the environmental, energy, and health consequences of America’s love affair with sprawl. In Steffen’s words: “The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go.” Arieff mirrors his sentiment: “First, let’s talk about cars. Stop designing for them.

Their excellent essays have spurred varied responses.

Ezra Klein at the American Prospect, yesterday: How We Live Now:

There’s often a tendency to assume that the status quo is the most “natural” way for things to be, and that rejiggering the relevant subsidies is somehow more artificial and presumptuous. But the current system was built atop a massive structure of subsidies and tax breaks. The mortgage tax deduction advantaged bigger homes; funding schools through inequitable property taxes encouraged families to move out of cities where the property taxes were low and into richer suburbs where the schools would be wealthy; putting billions into costly and little-used roads made far-flung developments appear cheap to those who only saw the finished product; underfunding public transportation heavily influenced development patterns, and so on and so forth.

Matt Yglesias picks up at the Atlantic: Dense:

What’s particularly astounding about this stuff, in my view, is that fixing the problem would hardly require some totalitarian density police to come around and force us to all live closer together. Instead, the main step we would need to take would simply be to allow people to build more densely if they want to. As a secondary measure, scrapping or limiting the tax code’s weird and destructive subsidy of big houses would do some good.

Other blogs that picked the thread up include Duncan Black’s Eschaton, 2020 Hindsight, Urban Grounds, Dove’s Eye View, Trinifar’s Some Maintenance Required, The Vigorous North, and The Velorution.

Environmental Justice Coalition Opposes Carbon Markets

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 20 Feb 2008 19:44:00 GMT

Citing the American Enterprise Institute, the Economist, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, a group of environmental justice organizations including the California Environmental Rights Alliance (CERA) have come out in opposition to carbon trading schemes, in particular the European Union cap-and-trade system (the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme or EU ETS) and the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism for investing in emissions reductions in developing countries. Major signatories include the Rainforest Action Network and the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The declaration cites the windfall profits generated by the initial phase of EU ETS and argues that carbon trading “stands in the way of the transition to clean renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency strategies.” CDM is criticized for encouraging “carbon dumps” and financing “private industrial tree plantations and large hydro-electric facilities that appropriate land and water resources”.

The California Environmental Justice Movement will oppose efforts by our state government to create a carbon trading and offset program, because such a program will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the pace called for by the international scientific community, it will not result in a shift to clean sustainable energy sources, it will support and enrich the state’s worst polluters, it will fail to address the existing and future inequitable burden of pollution, it will deprive communities of the ability to protect and enhance their communities, and because if our state joins regional or international trading schemes it will further create incentives for carbon offset programs that harm communities in California, the region, the country, and developing nations around the world.

Signatories are below the jump.

ExxonMobil Stands to Profit Handsomely in International Carbon Markets

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 20 Feb 2008 00:38:00 GMT

ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company by both revenue and market capitalization, has a place on the world stage comparable to a major nation-state (only 23 nations in 2006 had a GDP greater than Exxon’s revenues of $347 billion, which rose 7% in 2007). Only 31 nations exceeded its annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2004 [UN MDG indicators, ExxonMobil CDP response]. If end-use emissions of ExxonMobil’s products are included, its carbon footprint of 1 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent is exceeded only by five nations.

David Sassoon at Solve Climate asked Mario Lopez-Alcala, a senior analyst with Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, to estimate how the Kyoto Protocol impacts the company. Lopez-Alcala made some counter-intuitive discoveries.
Turns out that under Kyoto, Exxon is responsible for abating only 9 million out of the 138 million tons of its carbon footprint—about 6.9% of its absolute exposure. Mario arrived at this figure by compiling a weighted average of the emissions targets affecting all Exxon operations around the world. His estimate for what it costs Exxon to abate those emissions, assuming it had to purchase carbon credits? About $1 billion a year. (He calculated net present value for the 2008-2012 Kyoto compliance period and applied a standard oil industry discount rate to arrive at the figure, based on an expected price of $28 per ton of carbon. He also had to add in to the calculation, abatement costs for reducing emissions to a baseline year.)

$1 billion annually is not a terribly large liability for a $400 billion company.

There’s also another aspect to Exxon’s carbon footprint: the 129 million tons of emissions that it is not required to reduce. It is an enormous carbon asset in a world in which carbon has a price, and it presents a tangible opportunity for enhancing profitability – even beyond $40.6 billion. By reducing those emissions – most simply through reduced flaring, co-generation, heat recuperation, and carbon capture and sequestration – Exxon could reap profits from selling carbon credits it generates. Mario reports that BP is the leader in the sector in taking advantage of these opportunities, which are tangible and positive already.

Sassoon concludes that from an investor (as well as moral) standpoint, ExxonMobil’s storied resistance to the science of climate change is a poor corporate position.

DSCOVR Climate Satellite Still in Limbo

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 19 Feb 2008 21:37:00 GMT

Mitchell Anderson at DeSmogBlog:
NASA was given over $100 million in taxpayers money to build the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a spacecraft designed to measure the energy budget of our warming planet from the unique vantage of a million miles away.

Even though it is fully completed over five years ago, DSCOVR is still sitting in a box at the Goddard Space Center – likely for political reasons.

In 2006, Anderson filed a FOIA request with NASA, receiving only letters from scientists to NASA concerned about the cancellation, but no documents about the internal decision-making process.

In 2007, NOAA proposed a joint NASA-NOAA mission with the private launch company Space Services Inc. using the DSCOVR satellite.

Anderson now reports on his 2007 FOIA request to NOAA on the fate of DSCOVR:
My request was sent in November. I was told my documents would be emailed on December 11. Then I got call from NOAA General Counsel Hugh Schratwieser before Christmas telling me that it going to take longer than they thought but I should get the document package in early January. Mr. Schratwieser also assured me NOAA takes pride in their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and that I shouldn’t worry.

Then silence.

I have since sent five unanswered emails to NOAA requesting updates on my request. Government bodies like NOAA have a legal obligation to respond to FOIA requests in 20 working days. It is now over three times that long and counting.

Since I was repeatedly told over the last two months that the package of documents was very close to being assembled, I can only assume that it is now complete but being held up for political reasons.

McKinsey: Energy Efficiency Investment Offers Massive Returns

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 15 Feb 2008 16:03:00 GMT

At yesterday’s Investor Summit on Climate Risk, McKinsey’s economic research arm, the McKinsey Global Institute, released the report The Case for Investing in Energy Productivity (lead authors Jaana Remes and Diana Farrell).

The report finds that global investments on the order of $170 billion annually through 2020 ($38 billion in the US) in energy efficiency (what they call “energy productivity”) would deliver annual returns at a rate of 17 percent. Furthermore, these investments would reduce energy demand at half the cost of building out infrastructure to meet that demand. (For a sense of scale, $170 billion is 1.6 percent of global fixed-capital investment today.)

MGI finds some key energy-market failures that block the needed capital outlays:
Fuel subsidies that directly discourage productive energy use; a lack of information available to consumers about the kind of energy productivity choices that are available to them; and agency issues in high-turnover commercial businesses.
The report’s top-line recommendations for repairing these failures:
  • Set energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment
  • Finance energy efficiency upgrades in new buildings and remodels (see Architecture 2030)
  • Raise corporate standards for energy efficiency
  • Invest in energy intermediaries (such as energy service companies aka ESCOs)

For more, read the full report.

Sierra Club ED Takes Strong Stand on Cap-and-Trade Legislation

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 14 Feb 2008 19:19:00 GMT

The Sierra Club, until today, has stayed on the sidelines during the contretemps over Lieberman-Warner (S. 2191) fueled by a campaign by Friends of the Earth asking Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to “fix or ditch” the bill. The 1.3 million member organization has now made its position clear.

In an essay posted to Grist’s Gristmill blog this afternoon, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope delineates clear principles for endorsing climate legislation, all of which Lieberman-Warner currently fails to satisfy:

  • Reductions in total emissions on the order of 80 percent by 2050 and 20 percent by 2020
  • All allowances should be auctioned or otherwise used to benefit the public
  • Revenue should fund “highest-value solutions”, not coal or nuclear energy
  • Ensure a just transition for workers, protect vulnerable groups, and help induce world action

He compares the current political situation to the one that led to the Clean Air Act in 1971, saying that “Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie, fearing that industry would block him on other points, acceded” to the industry insistence to grandfather old plants, and that environmentalists like the 25-year-old Pope went along.

He then responds to Sen. Barbara Boxer and advocates of pushing a climate bill this year hell or high water:
Fast-forward to present day: the carbon industries are lobbying to get a deal done this year that would give away carbon permits free of charge to existing polluters – bribing the sluggish, and slowing down innovation. And politicians are telling us that while it would be better to auction these permits and make polluters pay for putting carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, creating that market unfortunately gets in the way of the politics. We are being urged to compromise – to put a system in place quickly, even if it is the wrong system.

Budget Briefing: Transportation Budget Cut, Shifts Funds from Mass Transit to Highways

Posted by EESI Thu, 14 Feb 2008 00:38:00 GMT

On February 4, 2008, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters released the 2009 fiscal year (FY) budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to fund construction, maintenance, and operation activities for the nation’s roadways, railways, and air transportation. The proposed $68.2 billion total represents a $2.13 billion decrease from the FY 2008 appropriations bill enacted in December 2007. Moreover, proposed budget rescission measures totaling $3.89 billion would further reduce the budgetary resources available to DOT in FY 2009 to $64.31 billion.

The Administration is again proposing dramatic cuts in federal support for Amtrak. Congress appropriated $1.3 billion for Amtrak in FY 2008 with $850 million going to capital and debt service and $475 million to operating subsidies. The Administration’s budget proposes a total of $800 million, a cut of $525 million or 40 percent. The Administration proposes $525 million for capital and debt service grants and $275 million for “efficiency incentive grants” which would replace direct operating subsidies and give the Secretary of Transportation discretion in how the funds are used.

Other highlights in the Department of Transportation (DOT) budget include:

  • Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) – $1.8 billion. CMAQ supports transportation projects that assist in meeting and maintaining national ambient air quality standards.
  • Clean Fuels Grant Program – $51 million to support transit operators in transitioning to cleaner and more efficient buses and fuels, an increase of $2 million from $49 million appropriated in FY 2008.
  • Transit Planning – $113.5 million to support the activities of regional planning agencies and states to plan for transit investments, an increase of $6.5 million from $107 million appropriated in FY 2008.

EPA Admin's GOP Fundraiser Appearance OK'd in Review

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 12 Feb 2008 22:26:00 GMT

The Office of Special Counsel has concluded its investigation into EPA administrator Stephen Johnson’s March 9, 2006 appearance at a fundraiser for Rick O’Donnell, a Republican candidate for Colorado’s 7th District. In its press release, the OSC declared that Johnson did not violate the Hatch Act.

The complaint, filed by Colorado Democratic Party chair Pat Waak, noted that an e-mail by former Colorado health department Doug Benevento had the subject line, “Fundraiser with Administrator of EPA Stephen L. Johnson for Rick O’Donnell,” with an attachment entitled “Fundraiser with Administrator of EPA.”

The act forbids fundraiser invitations that include the federal employee’s official title.

However, the OSC found:
that while Mr. Johnson’s official title was used in an e-mail invitation for the fundraiser, the invitation was sent by an organizer of the event, who was not covered by the Hatch Act. Moreover, as the individual did not consult, or receive approval from the EPA or Mr. Johnson, he was not responsible for the use of his official title in the e-mail used to distribute the invitation.

OSC also found that the EPA staff, in approving Mr. Johnson’s participation in the fundraiser, had not reviewed the list of the attendees, nor informed him of who would be attending the fundraiser, or where they were employed. Therefore, OSC found no evidence that Mr. Johnson had knowingly solicited or discouraged the political activity of persons with business before the EPA.

While Mr. Johnson did not violate the Hatch Act, OSC found deficiencies in EPA staff review processes, and recommended that EPA staff be aware of all parties and their roles in political events, including the attendees, and consider this information when advising on participation. Also, OSC advised EPA staff to review the invitation, along with its cover letter or e-mail, to ensure it complies with the Hatch Act.

House Plans to Resubmit Renewable Tax Package Stall

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 12 Feb 2008 22:09:00 GMT

Following the second one-vote defeat of the renewable tax package in the Senate last week, House leadership let slip they planned to re-introduce the oil-for-renewables legislation some time this week, for passage before the President’s Day recess.

Today Katherine Ling reports in E&E News that timeline is now in doubt:
The death of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and last-minute negotiations may delay House plans to take up a renewable energy tax incentive package later this week. Lantos died yesterday morning due to esophagus cancer complications. . .

The bill was expected to be introduced this morning, according to Matthew Beck, a spokesman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). Beck said the committee was writing the bill but had not completed it yet as they were waiting for decisions from the leadership.

Budget Briefing: EPA Clean Air and Global Climate Change Budget Cut 38%

Posted by EESI Tue, 12 Feb 2008 00:31:00 GMT

Ed. —I would like to welcome the participation of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute on Hill Heat. EESI was founded in 1984 by a bipartisan group of members of Congress concerned about energy and environmental issues. Their initial series of guest posts will be drawn from their briefings on the president’s proposed FY 2009 budget.

The President’s FY 2009 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget request remains relatively flat compared to the FY 2008 request and is down slightly from FY 2008 appropriations. The FY 2009 budget request is $7.14 billion, which is $56.9 million (0.80%) less than the FY 2008 budget request and $330 million (4.4%) less than FY 2008 appropriations.

The President’s FY 2009 budget request for Clean Air and Global Climate Change (EPA Goal 1) is $939 million. This is $33 million (3.4%) less than the FY 2008 appropriations.

Looking at the EPA budget by goals, the Reduced Greenhouse Gas Intensity program within Goal 1 has a FY 2009 budget request of $121 million, which is $9.0 million (6.9%) less than the FY 2008 appropriations of $130 million and $1.7 million (1.4%) less than the FY 2008 budget request of $123 million.

Looking at the EPA budget by program and project, the FY 2009 budget request for Climate Protection programs includes a Science and Technology component, requested at $11.4 million, and an Environmental Program and Management component, requested at $87.0 million. Taken together, these were cut $10.3 million (9.5%) from FY 08 appropriations. The Climate Protection Programs include Energy Star, SmartWay Transport, the Methane to Markets Partnership and Asia-Pacific Partnership. There were a number of cuts, as well as a few increases to the programs, as illustrated below:

Climate Protection Programs

  • $10.3 million cut overall (9.5% cut from FY 08 appropriations)
  • Zeroing out the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Registry (100% cut from $3.4 million in FY 08)
  • $6.9 million cut in Climate Science and Technology program (38% cut from FY 08 appropriations)
  • $4.0 million cut in Energy STAR (8.3% cut from FY 08 appropriations)
  • $177,000 increase in Methane to Markets (4.1% increase from FY 08 appropriations)
  • $5.0 million increase in Asian Pacific Partnership (no previous FY 08 appropriation amount)

Clean Air Rules

Clean Air Rules are a major component of EPA’s Clean Air and Global Climate Change Goal, and include the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the Clean Air Mercury Rule and the Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule. These rules work towards the improvement of the United State’s air quality. Additionally, reductions on particulate matter from diesel engines will continue to be addressed through the Diesel Emissions Reduction Grants program of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58), which authorizes $200 million annually (2007-2011). However, the President requests just $49.2 million for the FY 09 EPA Clean Diesel grant, 25% of the authorized amount.

A table reviewing changes in the Goal I and overall EPA budget is below the jump.

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