Table Of Contents
Federal Budget Debate Impacts Energy Priorities
As the 112th Congress took office in January, the debate over budget cutting and deficit reduction began to dominate the national conversation. EESI has helped Congressional staff understand the historical context of funding for energy-related programs as well as the economic benefits of certain federal energy initiatives.
Two particularly effective programs through the Department of Energy (DOE) are the State Energy Program (SEP), which provides federal funding to states to be allocated for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which helps low-income families improve the energy efficiency of their homes. On February 2, EESI brought several state energy officials to Capitol Hill for a briefing on the economic benefits of these programs. For example, families receiving weatherization services see their annual energy bills reduced by an average of $437; an estimated 15,400 jobs have been created by WAP funding from the 2009 stimulus bill, with even more jobs sustained through the purchases of supplies from local businesses. The SEP has facilitated loans to manufacturers transitioning to clean energy products in Michigan, creating over 2,000 jobs. And in Texas, the SEP-funded LoanSTAR Program has saved $316 million in energy costs since 1990. At the briefing, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) remarked, “In many, many cases it’s the states that are out there being innovative and coming up with new initiatives.”
On March 1, EESI partnered with the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus to hold a briefing on the administration’s fiscal year 2012 budget request for DOE’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. At the briefing, caucus co-chair Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) called for more action on efficiency and renewables in the face of the “perfect storm” of peak oil, growing industrial demand for energy, China and India’s increasing energy demand, and unrest in the oil-producing states of the Middle East. EESI also published a fact sheet which has been widely used on Capitol Hill and beyond on funding requests for energy-related programs across various federal agencies, with comparisons to funding in previous years.
Ultimately, the compromise reached between Congress and the White House reduces spending for FY 2011 by about $38.5 billion compared to FY 2010, and includes significant cuts to environmental and energy programs, including a $408 million (18 percent) cut for DOE’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and a $1.6 billion cut for the Environmental Protection Agency. Discussions about FY 2012 appropriations are underway, and EESI will continue to bring non-partisan analysis of the economic impacts of federal energy initiatives to help policymakers weigh the economic and environmental consequences of funding these programs.
Update from the Director
The past year has brought an incredible series of events: last year’s coal mine explosion and Gulf oil spill disaster; now the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan; a serious shale gas ‘fracking’ accident; and great instability roiling through the Mideast, home of most of the world’s petroleum supply. There have been attempts by Congress to strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases. And the drive to cut deficits already has resulted in sharp cuts to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs in the current fiscal year, while an initial attempt to cut billions in oil subsidies was rebuffed.
These events demonstrate the importance of understanding the true impacts of our energy choices. Republican and Democratic offices have told us the need for EESI’s approach and our non-partisan information and analysis, based on rigorous science and input from our diverse network of collaborators, has never been greater. EESI believes a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. There are amazing opportunities for this country to seize the initiative and really invest in a clean energy economy – this is good business at home and is essential for competing in the global economy.
With the bipartisan Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucuses, we are organizing the 14th Annual Technology Expo & Policy Forum on June 16 – just one example how we pursue workable, innovative solutions. We are building relationships with new Congressional offices; conducting highly respected Congressional briefings; writing fact sheets and issue briefs; commenting on policy proposals; and publishing our well-regarded Climate Change News every Monday. Please continue reading this newsletter to learn more. We also hope you will join us on Facebook or Twitter for updates.
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Advancing U.S. Renewable Energy
Workers rehabilitating a runner hub at American Electric Power’s Racine Hydro Station. Photo courtesy Voith Hydro.Through a suite of Congressional briefings and a new fact sheet, EESI has continued its excellent tradition of bringing Congress the latest information on renewable energy, which provides 10 percent of U.S. electricity and, as of 2009, eight percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Here is a quick look at our recent work:
- On April 27, we held a briefing on developing sustainable biomass supplies to meet our nation’s needs for food, fiber, and fuel while conserving our natural resources.
- On April 6, we held a briefing on water power technologies(including incremental hydropower, ocean, tidal, in-stream hydrokinetic, and pumped storage), areas for potential growth in hydropower capacity (including the 97 percent of U.S. dams with no hydro technology), and the economic benefits of hydropower development.
- On March 11, we held a briefing on how the United States can secure its supply of critical materials and rare earth elements, which are essential to producing solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries, among many other technologies. More than 97 percent of the U.S. and world supply of rare earths comes from China, and this supply has been restricted recently.
- On January 12, we published a fact sheet on renewable energy deployment, comparing deployment time, project size, and carbon displacement of renewable electricity and thermal technologies.
- In February, EESI announced a partnership with the Geothermal Energy Association to sponsor a new environmental stewardship award for the geothermal industry. Innovation in emissions reductions, protection of natural resources, unprecedented industry leadership, job creation, and community education will be recognized.
We also are working with the House and Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucuses to organize the 14th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency EXPO + Policy Forum for June 16, 2011. Details on this all-day event will be posted at www.eesi.org and emailed out to our briefing notice subscribers!
The next generation of wind turbines will require tons of rare earth magnets for their direct drive technology, which dramatically improves efficiency and reliability by generating power at the top of the turbine. Image courtesy Molycorp, from presentation given at EESI’s briefing on March 11, 2011.
Join EESI and Support a Clean Energy Economy!
As an independent nonprofit that receives no Congressional funding, EESI educates Congress and works to develop innovative policy solutions. Working together, we can reach our mutual goals: a strong, globally-competitive economy, a secure energy supply, solutions to climate change, and sustainable communities -- when we have the financial backing of people like you. Help move our nation toward a robust economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy bymaking a secure, online donation.
Why give to EESI? We are:
Credible - EESI attracts world-class briefing speakers and provides critical information. Congressional offices and other stakeholders listen and seek our advice.
Creative - The policy solutions we bring to Congress accomplish multiple goals: solutions to environmental challenges, job creation, national security, economic competitiveness, and a more sustainable world.
Successful - We have affected numerous policy initiatives covering transportation, buildings, energy, water, air, climate change, and sustainable agriculture and forestry.
Recognized - We have received Charity Navigator's highest rating for four years. Charity Navigator says that a nonprofit with this rating is "exceptional" and "exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its Cause."
Fuel Cells, Natural Gas: Viable Oil Alternatives?
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), co-chair of the House Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Caucus, stands in front of a Chevy fuel cell vehicle.Rising gas prices, health and climate impacts of tailpipe emissions, and the devastating impacts of oil spills like last year’s catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico have made clear the need to reduce our dependence on petroleum. Over the past couple of years, EESI has examined the environmental and economic implications of a variety of alternative transportation fuels, including electricity, biofuels, liquid coal, tar sands, and oil shale. This year, we continued the series with two more successful Congressional briefings.
On February 16, we partnered with the House Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Caucus, California Fuel Cell Partnership, and Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association to hold a briefing on hydrogen fuel cells, which can be used in place of batteries to power electric vehicles. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) kicked off the session, saying, “Hydrogen and fuel cells offer a great opportunity for the future of this country as we try and transition away from oil from the Middle East.” Most hydrogen today is produced from natural gas, but it can also be made from renewable biogas or via electrolysis (separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen) powered by solar energy or other sources of electricity. So while the hydrogen production process can emit greenhouse gases, depending on the source, the fuel cell itself emits only water and heat as byproducts. Several carmakers have fuel cell vehicles available for commercial lease, but high costs and lack of refueling infrastructure remain obstacles to widespread deployment. (Not to be overlooked, fuel cells are also used as incredibly reliable, off-grid, stationary power sources.)
Our March 16 briefing focused on natural gas as a transportation fuel. Natural gas has a price advantage over diesel and gasoline, emits fewer greenhouse gases when burned (per unit energy), and comes from mostly domestic sources. Natural gas vehicles emit up to 80 percent less particulate matter, a pollutant from diesel exhaust that causes respiratory problems and premature death. However, to increase U.S. gas production, the industry has moved to more unconventional sources such as shale gas, which can require millions of gallons of water to complete a few days of hydraulic “fracking” operations and presents significant wastewater management issues, as demonstrated by the recent spill in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. There also is some question about the overall climate benefit of using natural gas as a transportation fuel, since leakage rates of methane (a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide) along the supply chain are not well documented but appear significant.
Making Manufactured Homes More Energy Efficient and Affordable
Clayton Homes’ i-house™ features Energy Star appliances, compact fluorescent lighting, water saving fixtures, highly efficient windows and insulation, and solar panels. It costs $90,000-$150,000 before land and improvements.With an average sales price of $64,900 (not including land), manufactured homes are the nation's largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing. But these homes can be quite expensive to operate on a monthly basis if they have poor insulation, drafty windows, or inefficient lighting and appliances. Making manufactured homes more energy efficient could help reduce utility bills for families across America and reduce some of the 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions caused by residential buildings.
The good news is that some progressive home builders are making factory-built homes more energy efficient and sustainable, not to mention modern and stylish. In January, EESI brought representatives from Clayton Homes, the nation’s largest home builder, and Pittsburgh-based Terradime to brief Congressional staff on the latest in high performance factory-built homes. These companies build homes that maximize the use of natural ventilation and daylight and include features such as high performance “low E” thermal pane windows that block 70 percent of summer heat and retain 70 percent of interior warmth in the winter, high efficiency air ducts, compact fluorescent lighting, low-flow faucets, and optimized insulation. Some homes are built to receive the ENERGY STAR label.
Despite providing great comfort and lowering operating costs, energy efficiency improvements can push home purchase prices up by $5,000 – beyond what many manufactured home buyers, with a median household income of $29,900, can initially afford. A $1,000 federal tax credit for ENERGY STAR manufactured homes has helped offset some of the added upfront cost, but these highly efficient homes still only number around 20,000 nationwide. Speakers at the briefing suggested that an extension and expansion of this tax credit could go a long way to drive the market for energy-efficient manufactured homes.
EESI Makes Top-Ten List of Great Environmental Nonprofits
EESI is proud to report that we recently became one of the top-ten highest rated environmental nonprofits on GreatNonprofits.org – among the more than 1.2 million charitable organizations on the website! This is what one reviewer had to say about us:
“I think EESI is one of the most effective groups on Capitol Hill. They rely on credible scientific information to make the case for solid policy. I have worked in energy policy for many years and I turn to EESI for information because I know I can find the latest developments from the nation's experts in the field.”
Has EESI helped you, too? Do you rely on our factsheets, briefings, website, or social media for non-partisan information on energy and environment issues? Or simply appreciate our work for a clean energy economy and climate change solutions? Take two minutes to share your story by clicking here (you can even log in with your Facebook account if you have one).
Reading these reviews inspires us to continue working to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency – and a thriving, low carbon economy. GreatNonprofits reviews are also re-published on Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest evaluator of nonprofits, where EESI has had a Four Star rating (the highest) for four years running, and Guidestar, a website that provides information about nonprofits to help donors make informed giving decisions. Thank you for your support!
Coal Tar Sealants Threaten Watersheds, Human Health
Chemicals commonly found in parking lot and driveway sealants have been found to degrade aquatic ecosystems and are suspected to be human carcinogens. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic contaminants typically formed during the incomplete burning of coal, gasoline, garbage, and other organic substances and are found in coal-tar, crude oil, auto exhaust, and roofing tar. Studies by the City of Austin and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that coal-tar parking lot sealants are a major, previously unrecognized source of PAH contamination. Several local governments, including Austin, Texas and Washington, D.C., have banned the use of coal-tar sealants, but they are widely used in cities east of the Continental Divide. (Asphalt-based sealants are more commonly used in Western cities, where PAH concentrations were found to be around 1,000 times lower.)
On April 14, EESI partnered with the Water Environment Federation and the Office of Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) to host a briefing on PAHs. USGS scientist Barbara Mahler explained how coal tar sealants were discovered to be the source of PAHs in urban lakes, and how their distribution varied across the country. USGS research also found greatly elevated levels of PAHs in household dust of apartments where coal tar sealants were used on their parking lots.
Japanese Nuclear Crisis Highlights Risks at Home
The world has watched with great concern as Japan has dealt with the most serious nuclear crisis since the disaster at Chernobyl 25 years ago. The earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11 triggered a power outage that left reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant without a means to pump sufficient water for cooling, leading to overheating of fuel rods and releases of radiation. More than 70,000 people have been required to evacuate from the 12-mile radius around the plant (although the U.S. government advised its citizens to evacuate a 50-mile radius) and officials have recently said that it could take nine months to bring it under control.
These events have brought to light questions that should be at the forefront of every policymaker’s mind: What are the true costs of our energy choices? Who would pay the costs if a major accident were to occur? Is the United States adequately prepared for a similar event at the 35 nuclear reactors in seismically active areas of the West Coast and Midwest?
EESI has worked in the past to examine the financial risks to taxpayers of subsidizing nuclear power, as well as proliferation and long term waste disposal challenges. Looking forward, we are interested in exploring how issues of seismic safety and the security of all U.S. reactors should be incorporated into the re-licensing process. (One-third of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a nuclear plant.) We will also continue to research the size, scope and value of subsidies in light of the steep costs of the Japanese nuclear disaster, and bring this information to decision makers on Capitol Hill.
David Robison Joins EESI
David Robison joined EESI as Director of Finance and Administration in February and will handle finance, human resources, IT, risk management and grant management areas. He looks forward to working collaboratively with staff and EESI’s Board to ensure that EESI is financially strong, accountable, and operationally efficient as it fulfills the programmatic aspect of its mission.
David brings over 11 years of experience managing not-for-profit organizations in the District of Columbia. Previously, he was the Director of Finance and Administration at Food and Water Watch, where he was responsible for initially setting up their national and international financial and human resource infrastructure. David holds an MBA from East Carolina University and is an affiliate member of the Greater Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants (GWSCPA). He can be reached at (202) 662-1886 or drobison [at] eesi.org.
China’s Role in Climate and Clean Energy
With more than one billion citizens and a swiftly growing economy, China is an important collaborator in slowing climate change and has also emerged as a fierce competitor in the global clean energy marketplace. Although China recently passed the United States as the highest emitter of greenhouse gases, it is also the global manufacturing leader of several renewable energy technologies and the largest user of clean energy. In 2010 alone, clean energy investment in China topped $154 billion, while approximately 77 gigawatts of old fossil fuel power was shut down.
On April 5, EESI and the ChinaFAQs Project of the World Resources Institute held a Congressional briefing to explore China’s role in these issues. At the briefing, Dr. Mark Levine, head of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s China Energy Group, projected that China’s total energy use will plateau by 2050, based on assumptions that end-uses for energy (like appliances) will saturate the market; commercial and residential floor space will plateau; and demand for steel and cement will wane as highways and rail infrastructure are completed. Sun Guoshun, First Secretary at the Chinese Embassy, reiterated China’s commitment to cooperate with the United States on clean energy development and tackling climate change.
The briefing came on the heels of the release of China’s National People’s Congress’ 12th Five Year Plan for economic development – which includes new goals for carbon intensity, renewable energy deployment, and energy efficiency – as well as Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit in January. During the bilateral talks, plans were announced for the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, an alliance dedicated to improving the clean energy efforts of both nations by sharing intellectual property on electric vehicles, battery storage, building efficiency, biofuels, and “clean” coal. Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, remarked that “both the United States and China recognize that we can make more progress by working together than by working alone,” while highlighting the nations’ complementary strengths. The United States offers innovative technology, well-developed financial and legal infrastructures, and pioneering entrepreneurs, while China provides an opportunity for large scale and rapid deployment of technologies. President Obama said, “I believe that as the two largest consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States and China have a responsibility to combat climate change by building on the progress at [negotiations at] Copenhagen and Cancun, and showing the way to a clean energy future.”