Table Of Contents
The True Cost of Oil
EESI has focused special attention on the “true cost” of oil – including economic, national security, public health, and environmental costs – and strategies to reduce the risks associated with America's dependence on petroleum. The issue, put in an especially bright light by the recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, has been a longstanding political paradox for Members of Congress. Voters are sensitive to large fuel price increases, yet numerous polls show a persistent and intensifying public concern about our oil dependence.
EESI focused initially on the underappreciated health costs associated with oil and a transportation system dominated by automobiles. EESI has held numerous briefings that examined the impacts of transportation-related air pollution, collisions, and physical inactivity on America’s health. On May 24, EESI convened a briefing entitled “The Health Costs of Energy”which reviewed leading studies on the issue, including a National Research Council study that found the health impacts of air pollution from cars and trucks alone cost us approximately $56 billion per year.
Our work on health costs led to a closer examination of other impacts of our oil dependence – the most significant of which are the direct costs and risks to the American economy. The United States sends more than $250 billion to other countries every year for oil imports. Together with economic disruptions caused by oil price spikes, and the inflated cost of all goods and services due to high fuel costs, economic losses add up to more than $500 billion per year by some estimates. We explored these economic issues in two recent briefings: “Reducing Oil Dependence through Energy and Climate Policy”on April 29 (just days after the BP oil spill began) and “Oil Independence: Is It Possible?” with the Office of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), on July 22.
The July briefing also addressed the costs and risks to America’s national security, including military expenditures associated with defending petroleum-rich regions. A study by the RAND Corporation estimated the costs of guarding oil transit corridors at 10-12 percent of the Defense Department budget, or $60-90 billion per year. This study did not include the additional costs of military conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan, and many other national security impacts – such as the effects on U.S. foreign relations and geopolitical stability – which cannot be easily described in economic terms.
Other difficult to quantify consequences include the impacts of oil spills on water sources; businesses and jobs in commercial fishing, tourism, and other natural resource-based industries; and wildlife and ecosystems. (The recent disaster in the Gulf is a vivid example, but smaller oil spills occur with much greater frequency.) And of course, the damages associated with climate change are only beginning to be recorded.
In the coming months, EESI will continue educating policymakers on the true cost of oil, as well as solutions such as more efficient vehicles, non-petroleum fuels, and a transportation system that promotes more walking, biking, and public transit options. Please join us at www.eesi.org to stay informed!
Update from the Director
The summer has sped by and we are now facing a final sprint in the Congress before the November elections. While there has been much activity in the Congress, finding adequate agreement in the Senate to pass any significant climate and energy legislation has been elusive, at best. Instead there has been marked opposition to taking action that could make a huge difference to Americans who are concerned about our loss of international competitiveness, our unrelenting reliance upon oil (and the export of hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for it), national security, increasing energy bills, air and water quality, and climate change.
During the past few months, we once again have been clobbered with so many extreme weather events across our country and around the world, doing enormous damage and creating tremendous hardship and human suffering. Has this become the new norm? It was extremely sobering when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its State of the Climate report in late July and said that the “lines of evidence all point to the same conclusion: our planet is warming.” Each decade since 1980 has been warmer than the last. And of course, the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico underscores the fact that climate change is but one of many dangers posed by our use of fossil fuels.
But the good news is that there are multiple societal benefits to transitioning away from fossil fuels – and EESI has been working steadfastly with policymakers to develop such “win-win” solutions. Our Congressional briefings are one of the key ways in which we do this. Since the beginning of the year, EESI has held 23 briefings. And the Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Expo held on May 27 showcased dozens of exciting technologies that are in the marketplace already – they can make a huge difference in our homes, businesses and public institutions if we put consistent policies in place that place a value on low-carbon, efficient, clean energy technologies. This would create an economic energy transformation that could once again propel us to be the strong international technology leader we have been.
EESI brings forward voices from many disciplines to help better inform the policy debate with credible information and sensible and innovative solutions. It is always so exciting to work with so many wonderful, insightful people from across the country – and indeed the globe – who are committed to building a sustainable world. Thank you for helping us.
Join EESI and Support a Clean Energy Economy!Help move our nation toward a vibrant, clean energy economy by donating to EESI today. Please also join us on Facebookor Twitter, or write a review of EESI on GreatNonProfits.org. Thank you for your support!
EESI Joins YouTube, Twitter, PlanetForward
After the successful launch of our Facebook page last summer, EESI has continued to expand its online social media presence. We have begun filming short interviews with energy and environment experts for the video-sharing site YouTube, which also happens to be the second most popular search engine. Our longer videos, including footage of complete Hill briefings, are now available on our Vimeo channel in addition to being embedded in the EESI web page for each briefing. We’ve launched a partnership with PlanetForward, a project of George Washington University’s Center for Innovative Media to generate ideas and content related to clean energy, to make our video content available through its website and to make blog and webisode interview contributions. Finally, we just launched aTwitter account for those who prefer their updates in 140-character format. There are so many ways to connect with us online – please join us!
Rail Gaining Speed
High speed rail is already well-established in Europe
Many factors are converging to make high speed rail more attractive and feasible in the United States, including advances in rail technology, rising fuel price trends, increased highway and air traffic congestion, the need to reduce oil use and greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental and safety benefits. On May 4, EESI and the American Public Transportation Association brought a panel of experts to Capitol Hill to discuss the economic, transportation, energy, and environmental issues associated with investments to increase the speed of U.S. passenger rail service. For trips between 100 and 600 miles, high speed rail would be more efficient (in terms of costs, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions) than automobile or air travel. And economic analysis shows that developing an interconnected passenger rail network could be cost-effectively developed over time, starting in specific corridors then expanding to regionally and eventually nationally connected systems.
EESI Testifies Before Congress on High Performance Buildings
The EPA Region 8 Headquarters in Denver incorporates highly efficient mechanical systems with daylight strategies, a well-insulated building envelope, and other high performance features. Photo credit: Robert Canfield
In testimony before the U.S. Congress on July 21, Ellen Vaughan, EESI Policy Director for High Performance Green Buildings, discussed the importance of the federal government incorporating high performance building practices into the renovation and construction of existing and new U.S. government buildings. In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress defined a high performance building as one that optimizes energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality, and operational considerations. Ellen stated that the use of low-energy design strategies and technologies, renewable energy, water-efficient systems, and environmentally preferable, nontoxic materials must become the benchmark for all building construction and renovation. The federal government, which owns and operates nearly 500,000 facilities, “has an opportunity to lead by example," says Ellen. "By requiring an integrated design approach and procurement standards to ensure that their own buildings are energy efficient and high performing, the government can stimulate the market.”
Energy Efficient Buildings: Raising the Floor
Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing this tremendous opportunity to save consumers money and reduce environmental impacts, EESI has been working to “raise the floor” on minimum efficiency standards for appliances and building codes.
On April 15, EESI held a Congressional briefing on appliance and equipment efficiency standards. Although the Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary labeling program known as ENERGY STAR has helped drive the market for highly efficient appliances (by “raising the ceiling”), the role of minimum efficiency standards for many household and commercial products has been under appreciated. Briefing speakers addressed appliance standards under development by the Department of Energy (DOE) which could slash U.S. electricity use by over 1.9 trillion kilowatt hours by 2030 and save consumers more than $123 billion. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 doubled the DOE budget for appliance standards in FY 2010-11, helping the agency finalize rulemakings for more than 20 new standards.
On July 27, EESI focused on building codes as another way to improve baseline home energy performance across the country. Speakers discussed the building code provisions included in the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) and various Senate proposals that could save American households hundreds of dollars annually in energy costs. The briefing also addressed a legislative proposal to incorporate energy costs into mortgage underwriting criteria, since utility bills are the second highest cost of home ownership (after the mortgage) and greatly impact the ability of families to afford their homes after purchase. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) spoke in support of energy cost disclosures in real estate listings, much the way gas mileage is displayed on cars for sale.
Future for Climate Legislation Remains Uncertain, Public Opinion Is Not
Prospects for passing climate legislation this year are becoming less and less likely as the Congressional calendar quickly fills up and elections draw near. The House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) last summer to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and promote energy efficiency and renewable energy, and the debate moved to the Senate this year. Most of the discussion focused around a few key bills, most notably the American Power Act, draft legislation released by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) that included a national cap and trade program that would reduce GHGs by 80 percent by 2050. With the necessary 60 votes looking unlikely, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Democrats in the Senate would not pursue comprehensive climate legislation before the August recess. This leaves a small window of time in September and the post-election “lame duck” session, though many experts agree that passing any major energy and climate legislation will be a challenge in such a short time.
This is unfortunate news for all Americans, and particularly for the strong majorities that are concerned about climate change. To highlight the public perspective on the issue, EESI brought polling experts Jon Krosnick of Stanford University and Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School to Capitol Hill in early June. Dr. Krosnick presented brand new polling data indicating that Americans have not stopped caring about climate change, they understand it better than they did in the past, and they want the government to act now to pass climate change legislation. In his June 2010 survey, 75 percent of respondents said that human behavior was responsible for any global warming that has occurred, and 76 percent favored government limiting businesses’ emissions of greenhouse gases. Dr. Cooper’s research found that the American public has been very consistent over time in their concern about gas prices and global warming, and in their support for strong efficiency and renewable energy policies. Such findings indicate that Americans throughout the country want politicians to act now to address climate change.
The Defense Department and Energy Innovation
Over the past year, EESI has worked with the defense community to educate Congress on the national security threats posed by our dependence on foreign oil and by climate change, as well as the potential for the Department of Defense (DOD) to help drive the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels. On July 29, EESI held a briefing on how DOD can harness the leadership characteristics inherent to military culture and work with other federal agencies to advance clean energy innovation. The briefing featured Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy (Ret.) and Brigadier General Gerald E. Galloway, U.S. Army (Ret.), members of CNA’s Military Advisory Board and contributors to Powering America’s Economy: Energy Innovation at the Crossroad of National Security Challenges, as well as representatives of DOD and the Department of Energy (DOE). The panel discussed how DOD and DOE could fuse their clean energy programs to make the best use of DOE’s R&D talents and DOD’s large-scale opportunities for technology deployment.
EESI also released an issue brief on climate change and national security.
Using Methane for Energy: A Win-Win Solution
An anaerobic digester produces biogas, which can be used for energy. Image courtesy Harvest Power, Inc. Image courtesy Harvest Power, Inc.Every day on farms and in cities across the country, tens of thousands of tons of energy- and nutrient-rich organic matter is concentrated in waste streams. It represents a largely untapped source of renewable energy that could provide clean heat, power, and transportation fuels by capturing and using the biogas generated by the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in landfills, livestock manure, and wastewater treatment plants. Instead, much of the methane-rich biogas is released to the atmosphere, where it is a potent greenhouse gas and contributes to climate change. Since our farms and cities already collect and concentrate so much organic waste, why not use it for renewable energy and nutrient recycling and turn waste streams into revenue streams for agricultural producers and waste management agencies?
On June 16, EESI held a briefing for Congressional staff about the opportunities and challenges related to developing this widely available renewable energy resource. Speakers discussed technologies such as anaerobic digesters and gasification systems as well as existing federal programs to promote production of renewable biogas from dairy and livestock operations. Currently, the United States has no large scale urban anaerobic digestion systems using organic matter from the solid waste stream – and only 151 smaller scale operations, all of which use livestock manure. Germany, with more than 5,000 biogas systems of various sizes in rural and urban areas, serves as an example of how policies including a carbon tax, carbon cap and trade system, and a renewable energy feed-in tariff help the biogas industry flourish and create tens of thousands of jobs.
Workplace Giving Season Is Here!
Did you know that you may be able to support EESI through convenient payroll deductions at your workplace? Contributing to EESI through your workplace giving program is a simple way to help secure a healthier, more sustainable future for us all — pledge now and support EESI all year long!
Federal employees and members of the military can designate EESI in the Combined Federal Campaign with CFC #10627.
Washington, DC-area employees can give through the United Way of the National Capital Area. Just choose #0921 on your pledge card.
Employees at other workplaces (private sector, state governments, universities, etc.) can give to EESI through EarthShare, a federation of environmental and conservation nonprofits that sets up workplace giving programs throughout the country. Participating employers include Accenture, Citizens Bank, The New York Times Company, Harvard University, MacArthur Foundation, State of Ohio, World Bank, and many more. If you’re not sure if your employer participates, or you’d like to encourage your workplace to host its own EarthShare campaign, please contact Susan Williams, EESI Director of Development, at swilliams [at] eesi.org or (202) 662-1887.
Clean Energy Technologies Come to Congress
Howard Coffey of NewTek Energy Solutions shows off a highly efficient LED tube at the 13th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + ForumOn May 27, EESI and other members of the Sustainable Energy Coalition worked with several Congressional caucuses to bring back the Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + Forum. This year marked the 13th anniversary of the Capitol Hill event, which showcased cutting-edge energy technologies and solutions from more than 50 businesses, trade associations, government agencies, and energy policy organizations. In addition, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Steve Israel (D-NY), James Langevin(D-RI), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Peter Welch (D-VT), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Bob Inglis (R-SC), and Ben Lujan (D-NM) joined experts from the federal government and industry to speak about the latest renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies as well as their economic, national security, and environmental benefits.
School Kids Help Fight Global Warming
EESI was touched to receive a gift from students at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ) in New York City. As part of a year-long project teaching the children about philanthropy and contemporary issues, the students decided on priority problems to solve, raised money to contribute, and chose recipients for these funds. The SAJ students became convinced that if we don’t take dramatic steps to solve global warming, the consequences will be serious. They believe that policy work is a key to reducing oil use and expanding clean energy sources – and that the United States should take a leadership role. Given EESI’s significant work in this area, they designated EESI to receive the funds they had raised. EESI is honored to have received their gift.
EESI Welcomes Alison Alford
Alison Alford recently started as EESI’s new Administrative Assistant and will assist the staff with general office duties, supervise EESI’s internship program, and handle communications with EESI’s Board of Directors. She has a BA in English from James Madison University and previously served as the IT Manager at a national law association, where she started a successful office wide program for recycling IT equipment and office supplies. Alison is excited about working at EESI where she can pursue her passion in environmental policy; she can be reached at (202) 628-1400 or aalford [at] eesi.org.
Swiss President Talks Clean Energy Jobs on Capitol Hill
Swiss President Doris Leuthard speaks at a briefing co-sponsored by EESIOn April 12, EESI partnered with the Swiss Embassy, World Resources Institute, and U.S. Green Building Council to present a high-level dialogue, chaired by EESI Executive Director Carol Werner, on developing a clean energy economy and the opportunities it offers for new jobs and environmental protection.
Keynote speaker Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation, said she was happy to see President Obama and the United States taking a greater leadership role in the new green economy. The Swiss government has committed to renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2.2 million tons by 2020. Matt Rogers, senior advisor to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, agreed with the economic potential of clean energy, stating that “energy innovation is arguably the single largest contributor of wealth over the 20th century.” With this in mind, Rogers felt that the United States can use the economic recovery as an opportunity to make a down payment on a smart grid, improved public transportation, and more efficient automobiles. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) added that a national commitment to green buildings has the potential to generate 2.5 million American jobs and would help us secure our energy independence.
EESI has worked with several embassies – including those of Denmark, Norway, Germany, UK, and Canada – to help American policymakers learn from other nations’ experiences and craft the best possible solutions here at home.