Table Of Contents
EESI Brings Together Climate and Transportation Experts to Discuss Adaptation Planning
How should transportation planners be considering climate change impacts in their work? In November, EESI hosted a two-day dialogue meeting between climate scientists and transportation professionals, to begin to confront this issue. The meeting, Climate Adaptation and Transportation: Identifying Information and Assistance Needs, was organized in partnership with the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Thirty climate and transportation experts from around the country met to discuss two key questions: What do surface transportation professionals need to respond to changing climate and extreme weather patterns? How can weather and climate professionals best meet those needs? Findings from the dialogue and recommendations for action are currently being synthesized into a report for NOAA.
Much of the discussion centered on the scale of climate forecasts and the degree to which these forecasts are useful to transportation planners. Climate models are able to predict changes in sea-level rise, temperature, and precipitation over various time scales. Advanced models forecast climate changes for smaller geographic regions. For example, some models can predict temperature changes for both Florida and Massachusetts, rather than just an average for the eastern United States. Because transportation planning if often performed at the local level, it is difficult for planners to make adaptation decisions based on climate change predictions for larger regions.
Transportation, planners asked if their best option was to wait to make adaptation decisions until advances in climate modeling could provide high-confidence predictions for individual cities. Climate scientists in attendance explained that long-range predictions for sea-level rise and temperature increases are certain and localized enough to begin adaptation preparations in full.
Climate models typically provide broad ranges for precipitation predictions. Transportation planners and engineers build infrastructure to withstand specific low-probability events. For example, a bridge is built high enough to withstand a flood of particular height. How should an engineer incorporate a range of precipitation predictions into the design of this bridge? Through this forum transportation planners and climate scientists understand each others’ needs and perspectives.. Workshop participants discussed how planners can better use existing climate information, but also how climate modelers could better contextualize their results for use in real-world applications.
The workshop made clear that climate scientists and transportation professionals are committed to working with each other and make the best climate adaptation decisions possible, understanding that they are already witnessing change. EESI plans to build on the findings and relationships from this project to develop subsequent work on adaptation risk management, and help policymakers understand the need to incorporate adaptation planning into upcoming federal transportation legislation. It is clear that best management practices and a clearinghouse of examples and solutions would be highly useful for transportation planners as they confront expensive and long-lasting infrastructure decisions.
Update from the Director
Energy runs our global economy, has a huge impact upon our environment and is a major concern for our foreign policy and energy security, and obviously affects the price of everything.
The Energy Information Administration has forecast the highest prices ever for home heating oil as well as significant price hikes for propane, a common heating fuel in rural America. International oil prices continue to hover from $90-100 per barrel. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is a source of tremendous controversy across the country and in the Congress, and there is increased scrutiny over the expansion of shale gas fracking, particularly in the Marcellus shale of the Northeast-Mid Atlantic states. At the same time, expectations are not high for any binding agreement coming out of the international climate negotiations (COP-17) being held in Durban, South Africa.
However, there are some decidedly positive things happening in the energy arena—providing multiple benefits for the economy, clean energy production, improved efficiency, and the environment. EESI has been telling those stories. For example, earlier this fall, we held Congressional briefings on the “Economic Impacts of Energy Efficiency Policies and Investments” and “District Energy: Essential Infrastructure for Energy-Efficient Communities.” There were many speakers from the private sector who talked compellingly about the business case for energy efficiency—how it is a “win-win” proposition—as well as the need for sound policy to encourage those investments and break down market barriers. They also showed how improved energy efficiency is reducing government operating costs. In fact, I visited GovGreen, a major technology expo and conference—the offerings of cost-effective clean energy and green products and services by so many small and large businesses across the country is enormous and is a reason for optimism. There also has been significant growth in the renewable energy sector; according to the Solar Foundation, there now are more than 100,000 people employed in the U.S. solar industry. Things are changing—even if not as quickly as many of us would like!
Stay tuned as we seek to inform the national policy discussion and help policymakers be more aware of how clean energy is making a very positive difference to communities, businesses of all sizes, our country, and to ordinary people.
I always appreciate hearing your ideas and comments. And, thank you for your ongoing support of EESI!
Analyzing Concerns of EPA Regulatory Overreach
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under persistent pressure from lawsuits and the threat of legislation that could either repeal its authority to regulate air and water pollution, or defund its programs. Therefore, EESI set about the task of examining aspects of the agency’s new and proposed regulations to see how some of the criticisms in the public dialogue stack up to reality.
The authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) as a pollutant stemmed from the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 decision Massachusetts v. EPA, which said that if the EPA found GHGs to be a pollutant, it had the authority to regulate it. The agency did just that, and since then, has outlined a multi-year path to lower GHG emissions. However, the public dialogue on the new regulations seemed to give the impression that economy-restricting regulations were coming fast and furious.
In July, EESI published a timeline of the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulation implementation schedule, dispelling the myth that the EPA’s most recent GHG rule—which is a permitting program for large new sources of GHG emissions that took effect in January 2011—places limits on emissions and covers more sources than it actually does.
In August, EESI published an issue brief, Fossil Fuels in the Era of Greenhouse Gas Permits, which looked closely at the January GHG rule to see what effect it has had on new major sources of GHG pollution (mainly coal plants and large natural gas plants). This analysis found that the rule was not impeding the permitting of many new power plants. Indeed, out of the more than 100 permit applications filed with the EPA at the time, 30-40 percent of them included a GHG component to them; numerous projects had already received a permit to emit GHGs. The brief gained the attention ofInside EPA, a news site tailored to industries that are subject to EPA rules,. Our piece was mentioned in an article.
In September, EESI published Should Texas Be Included in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule? The Debate over EPA’s Final Rule,. We focused on claims by the State of Texas that the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR)—which strengthens reduction goals for sulfure dioxide (SO2) and nitrous oxide (NOx) for 27 states—should not include them. When implemented in January, 2012, CSAPR will fulfill the EPA’s obligation to control SO2 and NOx pollution that drifts across state lines. This will make it easier for many Eastern and Midwestern states to maintain clean air. EESI found that: the EPA gave ample warning to Texas that it would be included in the Rule both for SO2 and NOx; the state deserved to be included; and that the emissions reductions were achievable without jeopardizing grid reliability. Inside EPA wrote a full article on EESI’s brief, which was also mentioned in a Platts article.
South Carolina Pilot Project for Rural Energy Savings Program a Success
EESI has continued its partnership with electric cooperatives in South Carolina to demonstrate an innovative program to scale up residential energy efficiency. The pilot project for the Rural Energy Savings Program is testing an “on-bill” financing mechanism, whereby loans made to electric customers for energy efficiency upgrades are repaid through their monthly bill, by the energy savings achieved.
The implementation phase of the pilot project began in earnest in late summer. Outreach, home energy audits, and home retrofitting took place throughout the summer and fall. In early November, the pilot passed its goal of 100 homes signed up for the program. The process of completing the actual energy retrofit work to the homes continues. Once this work is completed, data will be collected to compare the year-to-year energy savings of the participating homes.
EESI is continuing its role, with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, to advise the ongoing implementation of the pilot project, provide independent verification and documentation of the lessons learned from the pilot project, and provides outreach to share the experience of the pilot project with relevant stakeholders. Separately, EESI is also helping support and advance the development of a similar national program, including the potential for federal legislation. Such legislation passed the House last year with strong bipartisan support, but ran out of time in the Senate despite broad support.
Inside EESI: Interview with Policy Director, Ellen Vaughan
How did you become interested in buildings?
I had the opportunity to work with some leading architects, engineers and building professionals thinking about better building design and realized that while, of course, how we generate energy is important, how we use it is equally as important. We spend ninety percent of our lives indoors after all! Buildings use forty percent of all energy resources in the United States and emit forty percent of greenhouse gases.
What are some issues about buildings that keep you up at night?
How can we accelerate the adoption of best practices? The size and fragmentation of our building industry and policy-making impedes adoption of best practices. The challenge is to simultaneously address many small, and sometimes underlying issues, which could create the leverage to move the whole industry forward. Some examples – underwriting, appraisals, builder training, building science education.
Why did you choose to work at EESI?
One thing EESI does that is so unlike other organizations is that we listen to our extensive network of experts to synthesize innovative solutions and inform the policy-making process. We look at how some state and municipalities are raising the floor of minimum standards on building performance (for example through appliance standards, buildings codes).
EESI brings these examples to policymakers and engages with Congressional staff to talk about things they might not otherwise hear about—helping them address these issues through their areas of jurisdiction. There is no one federal agency in charge of buildings. So we have to connect the dots and break down the silos. That’s an EESI specialty.
I wanted to work toward enabling more visionary policies—spreading the high-performance building message. Congressional staffers know EESI and our briefings and trust us; they know we are nonpartisan, and that we seek solutions across a broad spectrum of paths. We bring in experts to talk about sustainable energy issues and their multi-faceted benefits, showcasing real examples. There is no substitute for that.
How have people been helped by the policies that EESI is supporting? What are some of your favorite stories?
I will always remember the story about Mrs. Kelly in Kentucky. She had a very low income and lived in a small mobile home built prior to enactment of the federal code in 1976. She was facing $600 per month in energy bills, causing her to choose between eating and heating at times. With a new, much more efficient manufactured home, she is now paying less in mortgage and energy bills than she was previously in energy bills alone. Federal policy can help make that happen across the country—and advancing related federal policies is exactly what EESI has been doing.
Another story that comes to mind occurred during of our public briefings on Capitol Hill. We were discussing FEMA’s role in providing healthy, energy efficient, safe temporary housing for disaster victims. There was a young, bright staffer, who made the connection between energy efficiency and truly affordable housing through that briefing. He quickly realized that his member of Congress had many low-income constituents who would have an improved quality of life through better post-disaster housing (more energy efficient, more comfortable, and more affordable to live in).
Biomass for Heating: Big Potential But Needs a Boost
While much of the nation will benefit from low natural gas prices this winter heating season, it will be a different story for the millions of households and businesses across the country that are not on the natural gas grid. The cost of heating with fuel oil is expected to reach record levels this winter. Propane prices are up sharply, too. And, heating with electricity is the least efficient and most expensive alternative of all. During these hard economic times, high heating bills will only make things worse for many — especially across rural America.
At an EESI briefing, November 16, in a packed House hearing room, Congressional and federal agency staff and other attendees learned how biomass heating can help tackle the problems of high heating costs, economic recession, and high unemployment, all at the same time. Advanced, state-of-the-art biomass furnaces and boilers can reduce heating costs dramatically compared to heating oil, propane, and electricity. The biomass fuel is 100 percent renewable. In most regions of the country, there is an ample supply of local biomass that could be produced and harvested sustainably. Doing so could create thousands of jobs where they are needed most, in manufacturing and in providing the biomass fuel. Instead of exporting energy dollars to large, distant, energy corporations, community energy dollars can be conserved and invested locally. Finally, advanced biomass boilers, furnaces, and stoves are highly efficient, with very low emissions.
Changing out old, inefficient, highly polluting fireplaces, wood boilers, and wood stoves can contribute importantly to improving air quality in many communities across the country.
So, why isn’t rural America switching to biomass heat? Many are, but unfortunately, some are switching to the old, inefficient, unhealthy, dirty kind. They cannot afford anything else. Although the long-term savings of advanced biomass heating are proven and significant, the upfront change out costs can be prohibitive for those who could benefit the most – rural households, schools, and businesses that have been hard hit by the recession.
Space heating and cooling in buildings has been estimated to consume more than one third of U.S. total energy. Important policy attention has been given to improving building and conventionally powered HVAC appliance energy efficiencies. More is needed. However, relatively little policy attention, at the state or federal level, has been given to promoting renewable thermal energy – compared to that given to fossil fuels, nuclear power, renewable power, and biofuels. Biomass heating (and cooling) is an area where increased federal policy attention could make a difference – a win-win for households, economic development, energy security, and the environment.
Federal Energy Funding to States Spurs Innovation and Leverages Investments
How many people know about the State Energy Program (SEP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program? EESI has been working with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) as well as weatherization officials to help tell the stories of innovative programs that are really making a difference. Modestly funded in FY’11 appropriations at $50 million (SEP is authorized at $125 million), SEP allows states to target their own energy priorities. An analysis of SEP by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory concluded that every federal SEP dollar, spent typically leverages $10.71 of state and private funds and is associated with a cost savings of $7.22.
Examples of SEP at work range from efficiency retrofits in commercial and industrial plants in Indiana with savings helping to preserve jobs, to 85 school efficiency retrofits in Alabama resulting in $808,000 annual savings, to revolving energy loans in Colorado that have created 350 jobs in renewable or efficiency manufacturing. Find more stories and informationabout this highly successful but modestly funded program. Continued funding is always an issue—despite the outstanding record.
The Weatherization Assistance Program provides energy efficiency retrofits to low-income households. Since its inception, the program had weatherized more than 6.7 million homes as of 2010. With the recovery funds, it is estimated that 650,000 households will receive weatherization services. For each $1 of federal funds invested, $2.58 is returned to households and society, including $1.80 returned in reduced energy bills. Not only does this result in average annual savings in heating and cooling costs of more than $437, it produces average energy consumption savings of 35 percent—this can make a very real difference for many low-income households who are faced with dire choices of heating or eating.
We are working to make sure these successes are not simply well-kept secrets. They spur economic investments, training for job creation and retention, reduction of energy consumption, clean energy development, and greater safety and comfort for low-income citizens.
EESI Gets Active on Passive House Standard
Speaking at the 6th Annual Passive House Conference in October, EESI’s buildings policy director Ellen Vaughan said that the Passive House standard provides a proven pathway to high performance buildings. “This is an excellent tool to achieve a very energy efficient building,” Vaughan said, “and efficiency is the first step toward sustainable construction and renovation.” This is particularly true for new buildings; highly energy efficient buildings allow us to avoid locking in 50 to 100 years of unnecessary energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and cost.
There are now more than a dozen certified Passive Houses in several states, from Maine to Louisiana. The most important aspect of the Passive House standard is performance verification. Designers can use different strategies to achieve the energy performance required by the standard. As Vaughan explained, “what matters most is that the building really does save energy.” Perhaps surprisingly, in many cases, “green” buildings do not necessarily have to show that that they result in energy savings.
Buildings built to Passive House standards are already popular in Europe. Developed in Germany in the early 1990s, Passive House has raised the bar for energy efficient building performance higher than any other energy code, green building standard, rating system, or guideline. A house that meets Passive House specifications is so energy efficient it can be cozy and warm on cold winter days even without a mechanical heating system. To date, more than 20,000 homes, schools, and other buildings in Europe have been Passive House-certified and are using 80 to 90 percent less energy than comparable structures built to code.
The creators of Passive House were inspired by U.S. passive solar architects in the 1970s, and by Canadian building pioneers who were achieving very low-energy buildings in cold climates. In many ways, the Passive House standard combines these two philosophies, emphasizing a building that is super-insulated and extremely airtight, but has great indoor air quality.
Yet the United States has been slow to warm up to Passive House. Most U.S. building professionals do not have the know-how or access to the advanced building products that are readily available to their European counterparts. We are about 30 years behind European countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden in the quality, performance, operating cost, and sustainability of our buildings. U.S. building-energy codes are much less rigorous, and builders have little incentive to go beyond minimum standards.
But now the Passive House Institute U.S. has started an ambitious marketing, training and certification campaign. More building professionals are learning about Passive House, while consumers are learning they can save money and stop wasting energy by building or buying an energy efficient home or upgrading the one they own. EESI has been collaborating with Passive House U.S. to show our nation’s policymakers the multiple benefits that better buildings bring our country.
You Can Help Us Advance Innovative Environmental and Energy Solutions…by making a tax-deductible gift to EESI!
When Congressional offices call for information on complex environmental and energy issues, EESI will be there, offering thoughtful, nonpartisan assistance, helping staffers connect with additional experts, and showcasing the benefits of clean energy—when you make a gift to EESI today. Though EESI was founded by a bipartisan Congressional caucus, it receives no Congressional funding. Therefore it is your contributions that make innovative environmental and energy solutions possible!
From the transportation reauthorization bill to appliance and building standards—and a wide range of other topics—our nation will find greater opportunities for policymaking when EESI can be there to educate policymakers, engage stakeholders, and build coalitions.
One reviewer, “Ginty,” an advocate for renewable energy, explained EESI’s impact this way on GreatNonprofits (the Yelp for nonprofits):
"I know we have all accomplished more and been more effective because we were armed with information from EESI, and because EESI was also educating decision makers. Renewable energy has come a long way since the 1980s, and so has EESI. May EESI continue its work for many more."
So please show your commitment to sustainable energy by making a tax-deductible gift to EESI in the way that’s right for you! You can:
- Give securely online—you can even support sustainable energy year-round through convenient monthly giving!
- Send a check or credit card information in the enclosed envelope if you prefer to give by mail.
- If your employer has a workplace giving program, you can donate through easy paycheck-based deductions. Federal employees and members of the military can give to EESI by designating CFC #10627. Others can also often give through the workplace—ask your Human Resources Department if you can give to EESI through your paycheck; we are a member of the EarthShare workplace giving federation.
- See if your workplace matches employee contributions—through an employer match, the value of your gift could be doubled!
Thank you for putting your commitment to sustainable energy to work in so many ways—especially through your support of EESI!