Table Of Contents
Feeling the Heat (and Other Climate Change Impacts)
September marks the end of a very hot summer for much of the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this July averaged 2.7°F higher than the 20th century average and was the fourth warmest month on record. For some areas, July 2011 was their warmest month since record-keeping began in 1895; Dallas, Texas endured temperatures over 100°F on 30 of the month’s 31 days – and 70 days total in 2011.
Record-breaking heat waves were only part of this year’s severe weather. Americans experienced tornadoes, extreme precipitation events, severe flooding, and devastating drought and wildfires. The increasing frequency and severity of these events are consistent with the changes scientists have predicted due to our mounting greenhouse gas emissions.
What climate change impacts will we see in the coming years? A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) tells us that with each degree Celsius (or 1.8°F) of warming, we can expect:
3-10 percent increase in amount of rain falling during heaviest precipitation events
5-10 percent less streamflow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and Rio Grande
5-15 percent reduced yield of U.S. corn
200-400 percent increase in the area burned by wildfire in parts of the western United States.
These impacts are likely to cost us billions or even trillions of dollars. In the past 30 years, 99 U.S. weather-related disasters have surpassed $1 billion (adjusted for inflation) in damages and costs, and their cumulative costs exceeded $725 billion. And those are just domestic events. Extreme weather and rising sea levels in other parts of the world also impact us by serving as a “threat multiplier” in unstable regions, putting greater demands on our military. (See what the U.S. military is doing to reduce its fossil fuel use on page 4).
In April, EESI brought two authors of the NAS report to Capitol Hill to brief Congressional staff on this important research. Dr. Gary Yohe, an economics and environmental studies professor from Wesleyan University, explained that policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be thought of as an investment in reducing risk – and the science shows policymakers exactly what is at risk. While a policy can never guarantee avoided damages, we invest in homeland security for similar reasons.
Unfortunately, despite the observation of climate changes underway and scientific projections of more to come, many elected leaders have not made greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction a priority. Some are even trying to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating GHGs at all. To clarify some of the misinformation among policymakers about the EPA’s actions on GHGs, we published a fact sheet, “Timeline of EPA Action on Greenhouse Gases” and an issue brief, “Fossil Fuels in the Era of Greenhouse Gas Permits”. EESI will continue to defend EPA’s authority by educating Congress on the historical benefits of EPA regulations and the non-partisan research that has been done on the costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Update from the Director
As our nation’s leaders have focused on federal deficit reduction, many have taken the narrow view that we can save money by cutting funding for programs that protect our air and water, develop clean energy technologies, support energy efficiency retrofits, and improve energy and transportation infrastructure. Yes, these programs cost money. But any reasonable discussion of costs must also consider benefits.
What will we pay in health costs if we allow polluters to go unregulated? Where will America stand in the global economy if China, Europe, and others grow their lead on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies? Will American businesses remain competitive if they are paying for wasted energy?
On the other hand, the coal, oil, and natural gas industries – which receive billions of dollars in government subsidies – come with many negative health, ecosystem, climate change, and national security impacts. As the Congressional “super committee” works to identify $1.5 trillion in spending cuts this fall, it should give a serious look to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. To help inform the debate, EESI has published a paper to explain some of the harder-to-measure indirect subsidies afforded to the fossil fuel industry; the subsidies examined in this paper alone likely will amount to nearly $50 billion over the next decade.
As you will read in this newsletter, this paper is one of many ways EESI educates Congress and stakeholders on the true costs and benefits of our energy choices. EESI believes that a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand. Through briefings, conference presentations, publications, and personal meetings, we are providing non-partisan information and policy advice on issues such as energy-efficient buildings, sustainable bioenergy, shale gas fracking, climate change, and more.
I encourage you to share our work with your friends, colleagues, and elected officials. Now more than ever, we need to advocate for decision-making based on sound science, non-partisan research, and broad-based collaboration. Thank you for your support!
Transportation infrastructure will be a major topic in Congress this fall. Competing bills to replace the current transportation bill (which has been extended eight times in lieu of passing an updated bill) will be presented in both the House and Senate. Additionally, transportation projects are a central component of President Obama's proposed jobs bill, and Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and John Kerry (D-MA) have proposed an infrastructure bank. During these debates, EESI will provide policymakers with information on how to make transportation infrastructure more economically and environmentally sustainable. Please join us at www.eesi.org to learn more about these important issues as they develop!
Advancing Sustainable Bioenergy Policy
EESI has a strong tradition of advancing sustainable bioenergy policy. For example, in 2002 we provided input to Congress for the creation of the first energy title of the Farm Bill, including our white paper on renewable energy and agriculture. We have continued this work with a focus recently on the economic benefits of bioenergy (and other renewable energy technologies) for rural communities; the potential for biofuels to displace fossil fuels without diverting land from food, feed, or fiber production; and the ability of biomass feedstock production to aid environmental goals such as ecosystem restoration and carbon sequestration in soils. Equally as important, we have worked to ensure federal policymakers understand the role government initiatives – such as those in the energy title of the Farm Bill – play in advancing these important goals.
In April, EESI held a briefing on the opportunities and challenges faced by pioneering biomass feedstock producers. The federal Renewable Fuel Standard is pushing the nation beyond corn ethanol and other first-generation biofuels with a mandate to produce 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022. This will require 500 new biorefineries and the development of new feedstocks, such as perennial grasses and short-rotation woody plants, and new systems for collecting residues from agriculture and forestry production – all while ensuring sustainability. At the briefing, experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture explained federal initiatives to support feedstock development, including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and the Sun Grant Initiative. BCAP provides financial assistance for developing energy crops and systems to collect and transport biomass to refineries, and also requires participants to submit conservation management plans. The Sun Grant Initiative supports field trials of regionally appropriate biomass crops at land grant universities across the country.
In July, EESI and the Environmental Law and Policy Center held a briefing on the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which provides grants and loan guarantees for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects – including energy audits, feasibility studies, energy efficiency upgrades, wind power, solar power, anaerobic digesters, and bioenergy – for agricultural producers and rural small businesses. REAP was created by the energy title of the Farm Bill and has funded thousands of projects across the country, but demand for funding far exceeds supply. The economic impacts of this program are substantial: approximately 18 jobs are created for every $1 million invested, and rural businesses are reducing their energy costs through efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems.
"These briefings are critical for educating Congressional staff – especially with the large number of new members of Congress – about the important reasons why these programs were started in the first place: to advance the nation's energy, economic, and environmental security,” says EESI policy associate Ned Stowe. “Those concerns have not lessened over the past decade. In fact, they are more pressing than ever."
To keep our network around the world informed on the latest developments in bioenergy policy, we launched a new electronic newsletter, Sustainable Bioenergy, Farms, and Forests. Please visit www.eesi.org/sbff to read the latest issue or sign up for a free subscription!
EESI Donor Spotlight
Charlie Cooke sees clean energy as important to our nation’s – and the world’s – future. And as an energy policy expert at the University of Texas and a former Congressional staffer, he knows firsthand the importance of bringing quality information to our nation’s decision-makers and convening stakeholder dialogues to advance clean energy. He decided to become an EESI donor to support our work toward these important goals.
“EESI’s work on Capitol Hill in continuing education is not only first rate but also vastly needed with recent turnover of Members of Congress and their staff,” says Charlie, adding that Congress “needs good information to make good policies.” As a Congressional staffer, Charlie relied on EESI’s briefings and weekly newsletters for environmental and energy information and attended EESI briefings whenever possible because, he said, of their “uniformly high-quality and EESI’s great reputation for bringing the best people together to speak.” Now his donations help EESI continue this service for Congress and the policy community.
EESI is grateful for the generosity of all our donors – thank you so much for your support!
Defense Department Leads the Way on Sustainable Energy
From racial integration to reducing smoking, the U.S. military has played a key role in leading social change. Now the armed forces are doing the same for sustainable energy – not just because dirty fossil fuels contribute to the de-stabilizing effects of climate change, but because energy efficiency and renewable energy can save lives, reduce costs, and contribute to mission effectiveness.
In July 2010, the Department of Defense (DOD) launched a partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) to advance clean energy technology. At that time, EESI brought DOE and DOD officials together to discuss energy innovation strategies with Congress. This July, we continued our work to bring the defense and clean energy communities together by publishing a fact sheet and convening a briefing on DOD’s deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy. At the briefing, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), deputy assistant secretaries from the Navy and Army, and two veterans discussed the many sustainable energy initiatives underway in the military.
For example, reliance on heavy batteries and generators force soldiers to be “tethered to a supply chain,” according to Army veteran Drew Sloan. New technologies like solar blankets offer more operational flexibility and have received a positive response from soldiers using them in the field. DOD is also promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy at its installations around the world and developing renewable jet fuels to reduce petroleum use. (Petroleum has a particularly high impact on budgets: for the Navy, every $1 increase in a barrel of oil equates to an extra $30 million in costs.) “Our energy reliance in this country is a serious threat to national security; economically, diplomatically and militarily,” said Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (U.S. Navy, Ret.) at the briefing. “The over reliance on fossil fuels can be exploited by those who wish to do the U.S. harm.”
Events such as this briefing demonstrate that whether mission effectiveness, balanced budgets, or resource protection is your top concern, energy efficiency and renewable energy are winners across the board. Our work also helps Congress understand that funding sustainable energy programs at DOD – the world’s largest energy consumer – is an important step toward achieving all of these objectives.
Renewable Energy & American Jobs
As our nation struggles with nine percent unemployment, EESI has continued to speak out about the potential for renewable energy jobs through contributions to Green Solutions Magazine and YouTube, a new fact sheet, a presentation at the National Rural Assembly, briefings on Capitol Hill, and the annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Expo. Renewable energy industries currently employ more than 850,000 Americans through a combination of direct, indirect, and induced jobs. If we make a serious investment in renewable energy (including the electric transmission needed to connect these resources to population centers), we can create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in hard-hit sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and rural communities. Please visit www.eesi.org/economyfor more details on our work to promote a clean energy economy!
Exploring the Costs and Benefits of Shale Gas
Marcellus shale gas drilling site in West Virginia. Image from Jeanne Briskin's (EPA) presentation at EESI’s briefing on June 21, 2011.With environmental pressures mounting against coal-fired power plants, many are looking to natural gas to fill the gap. Compared to coal plants, natural gas plants use less water, produce no ash waste, emit fewer greenhouse gases, and are more adjustable – making them more suitable complements to variable renewable energy resources like solar and wind. However, the full environmental impacts of natural gas power depend on the source of the natural gas: conventional deposits accompanying oil reservoirs or deposits in shale formations. Shale gas is extracted using hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technology – in which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected underground at high pressure, fracturing the shale and releasing natural gas.
In June, EESI partnered with the Heinrich Boell Foundation to convene a Congressional briefing on the costs and benefits of developing shale gas. The United States has substantial shale gas resources – particularly in Pennsylvania, New York, and Texas – and they represent opportunities for domestic energy production. However, fracking has come under greater scrutiny for its high levels of water use and impacts on drinking water quality. John Quigley, former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, explained that the environmental impacts of shale gas development in Pennsylvania will dwarf the cumulative impacts from the state’s oil, timber, and coal extraction industries. In fact, two months prior to the briefing, an explosion at a Marcellus shale well released thousands of gallons of chemical-laced drilling fluid into nearby waterways.
Also at the briefing, Jeanne Briskin, leader of the Environmental Protection Agency’s research task force on fracking, provided an update on the EPA’s multi-year study on the impact of fracking on drinking water resources. Wibke Brems, a state legislator from Germany, explained that Germany and other European countries are closely watching the U.S. experience to help guide their shale gas policies. (Germany faces added pressure to develop more power sources, due to the phase-out of its 17 nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.)
“As the shale gas debate heats up, sharing information across different communities is essential for making good legislative decisions,” says EESI policy associate Matthew Johnson. “We strive for solutions that advance economic development while also protecting the environment and health of communities located near shale gas resources.”
Support Sustainable Energy with Easy Payroll Deductions!
Did you know that you may be able to support EESI’s work through payroll deductions at your workplace? Contributing to EESI through your workplace giving program is a simple way to help build a thriving, clean energy economy — pledge now and support EESI’s mission all year long!
Federal employees and members of the military can designate EESI in the Combined Federal Campaign with CFC #10627.
Employees at other workplaces (private sector, state governments, universities, etc.) can give to EESI through our membership in EarthShare, a federation of environmental and conservation nonprofits. Employers that offer the opportunity to contribute to EESI and other environmental nonprofits through EarthShare 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 a giving campaign to support environmental nonprofits including EESI, please contact Susan Williams at (202) 662-1887 or swilliams [at] eesi.org.
EESI Presents Environmental Award for Geothermal Industry
EESI partnered with the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) this year to design a new Environmental Stewardship Award to recognize individuals and companies that have made significant contributions to the sustainable development of the geothermal industry. The award was presented to EnergySource LLC for its Hudson Ranch 1 project in Imperial Valley, CA. The Hudson Ranch 1 power plant is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 30 percent compared to an average geothermal plant and set a new standard in minimized water use; the company has also taken steps to protect a species of burrowing owls during construction. “Geothermal energy is a valuable source of baseload power and can help our environment immensely by replacing dirty fossil fuels,” says EESI’s Carol Werner. “Industry leaders who are taking extra steps to make their operations more efficient and protect our natural resources deserve national recognition.”
John-Michael Cross Joins EESI
John-Michael Cross joined EESI in August as our new Transportation and Communities Policy Associate. John-Michael will continue EESI’s ongoing work to promote sustainable transportation through improvements in vehicles, fuels, mass transit, community design, and climate adaptation planning. He will also lead EESI’s support of community-level energy programs that foster local deployment of renewable energy and efficiency measures. Prior to EESI, John-Michael served as Research Director of the Climate Institute, where he focused on methods to reduce emissions from diesel vehicles. He holds a graduate degree in climate change science and policy from Columbia University and an undergraduate degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. He can be reached at (202) 662-1883 or jmcross [at] eesi.org.
Cool Roofs for Cooler Summers
Any city dweller is familiar with the urban heat island effect, where a lack of trees and the prevalence of buildings and asphalt lead to a temperature several degrees warmer than surrounding areas. This leads to more energy used for air conditioning and serious health risks during heat waves. One simple, cost-effective solution to bring down temperatures is cool roofs.
On July 21, EESI held a Congressional briefing on cool roof strategies featuring Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and renowned scientist Dr. Art Rosenfeld from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Roofs with white coatings reflect sunlight, keeping the surface 40°F cooler than black paint roofs and 80°F cooler than steel roofs. This in turn means less electricity used for air conditioning, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to global warming. White roofs could also save lives: in the 1995 Chicago heat wave, 739 people died. Those at highest risk lived on the top floor of buildings with black roofs. And cool roof coatings extend the life of a roof by five to 10 years, lowering costs and decreasing solid waste.
Will all of our buildings have cool roofs in the future? California and New York City have cool roof requirements, and several other jurisdictions are considering similar standards. "Building designers, owners and managers should consider cool roofs as they look for ways to reduce operating costs and improve comfort,” says EESI buildings policy director Ellen Vaughan. “Congressional action is also needed to drive innovation and market acceptance of energy efficient products and practices and high performance buildings across the country."