Table Of Contents
Update from the Director
What an exciting six months it has been in the world of energy and climate policy! In June, the House passed landmark legislation that caps greenhouse gas emissions and contains many other energy provisions. The Senate is crafting similar legislation. And the Obama administration has been meeting with other governments in preparation for the international climate negotiations scheduled to take place in Copenhagen, Denmark in early December.
While U.S. legislation and a strong agreement at Copenhagen are critical to reducing emissions quickly enough to avoid catastrophic impacts on human societies across the globe, it is clear that the transition to a clean energy economy has already begun here and in other countries. The question is, will the United States position itself to be an innovative world leader in this economy? Will we invest in energy efficiency to make our businesses more competitive and help households save more, and build our capacity to manufacture clean energy technologies to create jobs and earn profits selling them overseas? Or will China and Europe take the lead in the 21st century?
EESI is doing its part to ensure U.S. leadership during this historic time by bringing timely, non-partisan information to decision-makers on Capitol Hill. Since the May edition of EESI Update, we have held 24 briefings and published eight papers to explain the science behind climate change and highlight innovative policy solutions -- some of which already have been implemented at the state level or in foreign countries, and some of which have been proposed by leaders in the U.S. Congress for the first time. EESI’s work to educate policymakers on the urgency of climate change and the economic benefits of addressing it moves Congress closer to passing thoughtful, effective legislation.
Now is a critical time to continue and expand our work, which is made possible by our generous supporters. An easy way to show your support for the continuation of EESI’s work all year long is to sign up to give $10, $20, or $30 a month – or whatever you can afford. Your steady support helps ensure that we can continue to hold and videotape briefings, publish papers on critical issues, and respond to urgent requests. Please go to our secure, online form to sign up to support all of EESI’s work all year long; you can change your settings at any time. Thank you in advance for your support, so needed at this critical time for U.S. climate and clean energy policy!
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Working for Affordable Housing and a Stable Climate
An energy efficient mobile home in Kentucky. Photo courtesy Frontier Housing, Inc.Approximately two million mobile homes built before national standards were implemented in 1976 are in use today across all 50 states. Many of the families who live in these homes are at or below the poverty level and often spend more than half of their incomes on household energy. Poorly constructed, leaky, non-insulated mobile homes -- called the "worst housing stock in the United States" -- use more energy per square foot than other types of housing. Unaffordable energy bills for low-income families are only part of the problem. Most of the energy consumed and wasted by these mobile homes comes from fossil fuels, emitting large amounts of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
The U.S. Department of Energy offers assistance to many low-income households through the Weatherization Assistance Program, but, unfortunately, these pre-1976 mobile homes are generally in such bad condition they cannot be helped. In June, EESI published a factsheet on energy use in mobile homes and held a briefing for Congressional staff on legislative strategies to help replace these units with ENERGY STAR qualified manufactured housing that is 20 to 30 percent more efficient than most homes built today. The briefing presented success stories from state housing administrators who are creating “win-win” opportunities for affordable housing and climate change mitigation objectives alike.
There is enormous potential to improve the energy performance, comfort, safety, and overall quality of manufactured housing. Manufacturers produced factory-built "Mississippi Cottages" as part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pilot project after the Katrina disaster. They are ENERGY STAR compliant, able to withstand 150-mile winds, have good indoor air quality, and are cost competitive with FEMA’s other temporary housing. EESI has embarked on a project to promote these high performance objectives in federal procurement specifications for emergency housing and design standards for manufactured homes.
Building (and Rebuilding) Policies to Mitigate Climate Change
As the 111th Congress moves forward in developing climate change legislation, EESI is involved in a number of activities to promote policies that reduce energy use in the U.S. building sector. "While buildings are currently a big part of the climate change problem, they’re also becoming part of the solution,” says Ellen Vaughan, EESI Policy Director. "Public policies that promote energy-saving retrofits and new buildings that generate renewable energy on-site will move us even further toward the goal.” Buildings currently account for 40 percent of total energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Much attention is focused on new buildings, as the construction of homes and other buildings provides a unique opportunity to "design out" inefficiencies from the beginning and integrate renewable energy technologies. Two ways to make the construction process more energy efficient are to 1) improve and enforce the model (minimum) building codes and 2) promote and incentivize enhanced, voluntary codes and standards. EESI held a Congressional briefing in June to shine a light on legislation that would require the model codes and standards to increase building energy efficiency by 30 percent immediately and by 50 percent within five years, with steps to achieve net-zero energy buildings by 2030.
But new construction is a small piece of the puzzle. Most of the buildings that exist today will exist in 2030, and most could be made significantly more efficient by the "low-hanging fruit" of new insulation, air sealing, high performance windows, and energy-efficient appliances and lighting. EESI is participating in the public/private sector Rebuilding America coalition to craft policies to mobilize a national effort to retrofit 50 million buildings by the year 2020. Such an initiative could generate more than 600,000 full-time jobs and save households an estimated $300 to $1,200 a year in energy costs.
Science Dictates Urgency for Action
Greenland ice sheet melt zone, 1979-2007. Photo courtesy U.S. Global Change Research Program.With economic, social and national security arguments for climate change legislation gaining strength daily, there is a risk that the science-based environmental threats of climate change are not receiving sufficient coverage. EESI remains committed to educating policymakers on the real and accelerating danger global warming poses to environmental stability and the consequent urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
On October 1, we held a briefing that brought into sharp relief the profound climate change impacts seen today in the Arctic, where temperatures have risen twice as fast as elsewhere. The loss in sea ice far exceeds the worst case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report and the changes already occurring in the region serve as stark warning of the magnitude of the problem the planet faces.
EESI followed up on October 2 by bringing together experts on one emissions source -- fluorocarbons -- to address this significant but overlooked cause of climate change. These gases, which exist in most refrigeration systems, air conditioners and insulation, have a global warming potential up to 12,500 times as strong as carbon dioxide (CO2). Their potential release over the next decade threatens to undermine all global CO2 reductions made elsewhere. The speakers, including the co-chair of the task force that manages this risk under the international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol, industry professionals and scientists, examined the range of potential solutions and costs to address this issue. A related paper on the Montreal Protocol’s implications for climate change is available here.
Climate Action at the State Level: Lessons for Federal Policymakers
Not waiting for federal action on climate change, many states have taken the lead in recent years to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: 37 states have already developed climate action plans, and 42 states are participating at some level in regional agreements to limit GHGs. These plans vary in implementation status from a list of possible policy options to laws mandating specific emission targets. “The states have shown that we can implement meaningful policies that address climate change,” says Amy Sauer, policy associate for EESI’s Energy and Climate Program. “And the good news for federal policymakers is that they can look to the states for innovative actions that have won support from diverse, bipartisan stakeholders.”
EESI, in partnership with the Center for Climate Strategies, has showcased several state climate action plans for Congressional staff through a series of briefings on Capitol Hill. Beginning in May 2009, the first briefing provided an overview of the wide variety of actions that states have taken and featured speakers from Michigan, Florida, and Maryland. In July, the focus was on the agriculture, forest and waste management sectors, with Iowa, North Carolina, and South Carolina representatives describing the potential for bioenergy initiatives and improved land management practices to enhance carbon sequestration and reduce GHG emissions. And in September, we held our third briefing in the series, this time looking at the built environment. The lessons from Minnesota, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania were that energy-efficient buildings, industry, and community design not only reduce emissions, but in many cases save states and constituents significant amounts of money.
EESI also recently released a web-based resource that describes in more detail how each state has addressed the built environment in their climate action plans. State Actions on Climate Change: A Focus on How Our Communities Growcompiles the actions taken by states to incorporate transportation, green building, and land use or “smart growth” practices into climate action plans. This resource should encourage those working on climate plans, whether at the regional, state or local level, to focus on land use reform as a key element for reducing GHG emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.
Alternative Transportation Fuels
[Oil shale mine in Alberta, Canada] Oil sands mine in Alberta, Canada. Photo courtesy Chris Evans and the Pembina Institute.Most Americans agree that reducing our oil consumption is an important goal. The alternatives being explored, however, vary in terms of their technical feasibility as well as their economic, energy, climate, and other environmental implications. To help Congress properly frame and compare the positive and negative impacts of different alternatives, EESI designed a series of briefings that examined a range of transportation fuels including liquid coal, fuels derived from tar sands and oil shale, and biofuels.
Coal-to-liquid fuels (CTL) were first developed almost 100 years ago, but only South Africa has developed a commercial scale liquid coal industry. Attempts to jumpstart CTL development in the United States have been hindered by capital costs that range in the billions of dollars and the fact that without carbon capture and storage, CTL production generates more than twice the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of conventional petroleum fuels. CTL plants also require large amounts of water which constrains their development near large coal reserves in arid western regions.
Fuels derived from tar sands (also referred to as "oil sands") are currently produced at commercial scale, primarily from surface and subsurface mines in northern Alberta, Canada. Tar sands contain a dense, semi-solid form of petroleum known as bitumen. The additional energy required to process bitumen into usable fuel generates life cycle greenhouse gas emissions that are 5-15 percent higher than the average fuel from conventional petroleum. Similarly, oil shale -- of which the western United States has large deposits -- requires large amounts of energy and water to extract and process.
The energy and water impacts of producing biofuels, meanwhile, can vary widely depending on which feedstocks and conversion processes are used to produce the fuel. The sustainability and life cycle emissions of different feedstocks are the subject of ongoing debate. A variety of feedstocks, especially those being explored for next generation biofuels such as algae and cellulosic biomass, hold great potential with greenhouse gas profiles substantially lower than petroleum-based fuels. Significant progress also is being made in developing feedstocks such as camelina, jatropha, and halophytes that will help bridge the transition from current generation biofuels to more advanced biofuels. Conventional biofuel production also has rapidly improved its overall efficiency and emission profile.
School Bus Idle Reduction Curriculum Available
We’ve all seen school buses idling by the sidewalk, waiting for kids to come streaming out of the classroom. But unnecessarily running engines can waste more than 100 gallons of fuel per bus per year, expose children to diesel exhaust (both inside and outside buses), and emit carbon dioxide which causes climate change. To address these problems, EESI worked with the Utah Clean Cities Program and National Energy Foundation to develop a free curriculum to help school officials and bus drivers reduce school bus idling. With over 400,000 school buses transporting more than 25 million children on a typical school day, widespread implementation of idle reduction programs could have significant, lasting impacts on school budgets, kids’ health, and climate change mitigation efforts. You can help by distributing the information to your local schools or making a contribution to EESI to support more efforts like this.
Carbon Reduction Opportunities in the Transportation Bill
There have been several key developments in the debate over the next federal transportation authorization bill. Notably, Transportation for America (T4A), a broad national coalition of which EESI is a member, and the National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) each released comprehensive reports detailing reforms in the purposes, structure, function, and funding mechanisms for federal transportation programs. Both groups focused on the importance of establishing national goals -- including energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals -- by which the performance of transportation programs and policies would be measured.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a draft transportation authorization bill in June that incorporated many of the recommended reforms. The legislation specifies that state transportation agencies will develop greenhouse gas reduction targets in consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and that larger metropolitan transportation agencies will create plans to meet these targets. The bill stops short, however, of setting a national goal for greenhouse gas reduction. In fact, the draft bill does not establish any national goals or objectives. Many groups following the bill have noted this omission as a major weakness. Further action will not occur until 2010.
EESI held a Congressional briefing on October 21 that examined a new report on transportation strategies to reduce carbon emissions. Sponsored by a diverse consortium of federal agencies and stakeholder groups, Moving Coolerestimates the potential reductions in oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions that various combinations of strategies could achieve. Implications of these strategies for state and metropolitan transportation agencies were discussed in-depth.
EESI’s “Complete Streets” briefing on June 5 focused on policies to make cities and towns more conducive to walking, biking, and transit use. Such measures help improve community vitality and public health while reducing carbon emissions. In addition, an October 22 briefing on clean energy jobs presented research finding that one billion dollars of investment in public transportation, an important element of carbon-cutting strategies, yields $3.5 billion in economic benefits.
Does Your Delegation Support Clean Energy?
Rep. Vern Ehlers (right) learns about small wind turbines on Capitol Hill.In May 2009, the Sustainable Energy Coalition (SEC) worked with the House and Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucuses to educate policymakers about the current status and near-term potential of clean energy technologies at an expo on Capitol Hill. EESI is on the SEC Steering Committee and plays an integral role in running the expo. This year’s event brought together more than 50 businesses, trade associations, government agencies, and energy policy research organizations. Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) discussed the role that energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) technologies can play in solving economic, environmental, and security issues.
More than 200 total Representatives and Senators are members of these bipartisan caucuses, formed in the late 1990s to increase Congressional awareness of RE and EE technologies in the United States. If you don’t see your Member of Congress or Senators on the list at www.eesi.org/caucuses/reee, ask them to show their support for clean energy by joining today!
Can Forest Biomass Be Used Sustainably for Energy?
Photo courtesy USDA NRCS.Yes, but only with thoughtful federal policies that promote both the production of bioenergy and holistic forest stewardship objectives. Residues from logging, forest restoration, hazardous fuel reduction, infestation control, and other forest management activities can be used as renewable alternatives to the fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change. New energy markets for these materials can provide economic opportunities for forest landowners and communities, reducing the financial pressure to clear working forests for development. However, there is also the potential for increased demand to drive unsustainable levels of harvesting, with negative consequences for biodiversity, soil, and water conservation.
In July, EESI released a new policy paper, Sustainable Forest Biomass: Promoting Renewable Energy and Forest Stewardship, explaining the issues surrounding the current use of woody biomass as a renewable energy resource, and identifying policy solutions that will promote sustainable harvesting as part of a larger effort to steward our nation's forests for a diversity of values, products, and ecosystem services. This publication comes at a timely moment, as Congress and stakeholders debate how best to incorporate sustainability measures into the national Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and pending climate and energy legislation that includes a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).
This paper is the end product of a two-year initiative in which EESI convened a discussion series with scientists, community groups, foresters, environmental advocates, federal agencies, and other experts to explore the opportunities and problems associated with greater use of woody biomass for energy. The publication of this paper closes the formal discussion series, but EESI staff look forward to working with participants on future bioenergy issues. We want to express our deep appreciation to all who participated in the discussion series. Many individuals invested considerable time in sharing their experience and expertise; the paper reflects the guidance, knowledge, and dedication of our network.
Don’t Forget about Heating and Cooling
Thermal energy, or energy needed for heating and cooling, makes up approximately one third of U.S. energy demand, but current energy policies (and proposed climate change legislation) focus almost exclusively on electricity and transportation fuels. Combined heat and power (CHP) systems are able to produce both electricity and heat with high efficiency -- up to 90 percent. Heat can then be used on-site or sent in the form of steam or hot water through a network of insulated pipes to heat neighborhoods, college campuses, and industrial complexes, an infrastructural model referred to as district energy. The climate benefits of CHP and district energy systems can be improved further through the use of low-carbon fuels (such as renewable biomass), or through the creation of hybrid energy systems that incorporate other sources of renewable thermal energy, such as geothermal heat pumps or solar hot water systems.
On April 21, EESI held a Congressional briefing that highlighted the potential for CHP, also referred to as cogeneration, and district energy systems to provide significant quantities of thermal energy while reducing both fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. On June 2, EESI further explored this topic at a briefing on heating and cooling with sustainable biomass energy. Although wood, energy crops, and organic wastes are abundantly available across the country, these resources are limited relative to the size and scale of our overall energy demand. The high efficiency of thermal conversion allows us to get more energy and greater greenhouse gas reductions from limited biomass supplies, compared to electricity-only facilities or production of liquid biofuels. Small-scale thermal energy systems also are less likely to overwhelm the ability of the local land base to produce sustainable quantities of biomass than larger and less efficient facilities.
EESI plans to continue bringing quality information to the Congress on the important role that CHP, district energy, and renewable heating and cooling technologies can play in national energy and climate objectives.
Nuclear Energy: Worth the Financial Risk?
Photo courtesy Mattias Olsson.Much discussion has been made lately about a “nuclear renaissance” taking place in the United States. Nuclear energy makes up about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity supply, although no new nuclear power plants have been constructed in the United States for several decades. Those in favor of seeing this supply grow argue that it provides a domestic, carbon-free source of energy, with one 1,000 megawatt (MW) plant supplying enough electricity to power 740,000 households.
A central obstacle to new construction is the large cost for building a nuclear reactor; estimates now range between $5 billion and $10 billion per plant. In addition, the United States has not yet established a long-term storage solution for the radioactive waste created from energy generation. Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, the proposed long-term repository for U.S. nuclear waste, was effectively canceled by the Obama administration this year, as the President’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget removed all significant funding for continued development on this site.
In July, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) proposed a new energy plan that includes constructing 100 nuclear plants in the next 20 years at a price of $700 billion. Currently, the Department of Energy is working to finalize federal loan guarantees to finance new energy projects, with $18.5 billion designated for nuclear power facilities and $2 billion for advanced nuclear power facilities for the “front-end” of the nuclear fuel cycle. Under this program, the federal government would guarantee any loans provided by private investors to new and innovative energy projects for up to 80 percent of the project cost. Those supporting a nuclear renaissance in the United States are arguing for a significant amount of funding to be set aside for the program, despite the high default rate for these loans. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office calculated the risk of default on loans made to nuclear projects at greater than 50 percent.
On May 21, EESI joined with the Physicians for Social Responsibility to host a Congressional briefing on this issue. Stephen Thomas, a professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, and Peter Bradford, a former commissioner for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, addressed the recent interest in developing nuclear power, pointing out the financial risks associated with investing in nuclear power in the face of the urgent need to address climate change. Both speakers advocated for a sensible energy policy that recognizes the value of all carbon reducing technologies, but would provide more incentives for those that are cost effective and quickly deployable.
Support EESI While You Shop
The GreenTech Shop is a new online retail company specializing in environmentally-friendly consumer electronics. All products must meet a green standard or have an ENERGY STAR rating and be delivered in 100 percent recyclable packaging. It’s also an EESI partner, making a donation to us for every order of $25 or more. So if you’re in the market for environmentally-friendly consumer electronics such as solar bags, radios, or lamps, visit the GreenTech Shop atwww.thegreentechshop.com and support EESI’s work at the same time. Your purchase comes with a 100 percent satisfaction, no-hassle guarantee, and returns are accepted within 60 days with no questions asked.
Climate Change and National Security
The U.S. Navy assists in the Philippines after Tropical Storm Ketsana. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Ramsey.In the national security arena, climate change is described as a “threat multiplier,” leading to extreme weather events, resource conflicts and ultimately humanitarian crises that will place an ever-increasing burden on our nation’s military, both domestically and abroad. This fall, a number of Congressional committees held hearings to investigate the issue, receiving testimony from retired military officers, defense experts and former Senator John Warner (R-VA), who also served as Secretary of the Navy in the 1970s. Witnesses discussed the need to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, create a more secure electrical grid, and decrease our reliance on foreign fossil fuels. On September 10, EESI held a briefingthat highlighted the links among energy supply, climate change, and national security. Speakers from CNA’s Military Advisory Board discussed their recent report, Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security, and representatives from the Navy and Air Force outlined their actions to reduce energy demand and shift supplies to low carbon, more secure sources.