June 15, 2012

This Week in Green Politics: 6/15/12

Climate Tipping Points Approaching Sooner Than We Thought

The weekend is off to a dystopian start. In an article published by the journal Science, a group of eighteen scientists warn that the earth could reach environmental tipping points by the end of the century. Increasing carbon emissions and industrialization could cause unpredictable changes on a scale not seen since the glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago.

According to Anthony Barnosky, a professor at UC Berkely, business-as-usual will result in "political strife, economic strife, war, and famine."

House GOP vs. Safe Biking and Walking

Elsewhere in the "cheerful news" category, some GOP negotiators are trying to throw walking and biking programs under the bus. Republicans in the House have already spiked the transportation bill with "poison" pills, like fast-tracking Keystone XL and hampering the EPA's coal ash rules. Now, they're demanding that the Senate kill programs like Safe Routes to School, which helps children walk to school safely.

The Sierra Club reports:

Another program under fire, formerly known as the Transportation Enhancements program, has historically provided states and cities with the majority of their funding for safe biking and walking infrastructure….

House Republicans initially demanded that funding the "Additional Activities" program be eliminated entirely, but were rebuffed by the Senate. After all, a new survey shows that 83% of Americans support maintaining or increasing funding for biking and walking, including 80% of Republicans. Now, House Republican negotiators are demanding that states be able to opt out of the Additional Activities program….

Americans for Prosperity vs. Kite-Flying Extremists

Last Friday, as you might have heard, was Global Wind Day. To celebrate offshore wind potential in New Jersey, the Sierra Club planned a casual rally on the beach, inviting people to "bring your family, friends, and kites." That didn't sit well with Americans for Prosperity:

You heard that right! Friday is “Global Wind Day” and environmental extremists throughout New Jersey will be celebrating by flying kites at beaches along the Jersey Shore and calling for more and more of our tax dollars to be used to subsidize their crazy offshore wind pipe dreams!

The threat of kite-flying families was so great that Americans for Petroleum actually chartered six buses to bring in "counter-protestors."

All I can say is, if we can scare them with kites, then policy proposals should be no problem.

Legislation Would Waive Environmental Laws for Border Patrol

Next week, the House will vote on a bill to let Homeland Security ignore over thirty environmental and land-management laws along the border. A few of the laws covered: the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act.

I think this proposal is worth talking about. It's certainly possible that environmental laws could hamper border security, for instance if patrols are not allowed to access certain areas. But I am concerned about the precedent this would set. If we formally allow an agency to break the law, where do we draw the line? How do we decide which functions are important enough to be exempted in the future?

Ben Geman has more at the Hill.

New Research Could Change the Way We Look at Efficiency

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is about to publish an economics paper that could upend our ideas of energy efficiency. Paul Voosen at E&E Greenwire explains it better than I could:

For decades, the government has placed minimum energy standards on household appliances like fridges, once a notorious power hog. The expectation has been that, while purchase prices might temporarily bump up, electricity savings would balance that expense down the road.

It seems a reasonable assumption. And it's one that has, until recently, powered most of the Energy Department's models, said Chu… The thing is, historical data don't show it to be true. There is no bump, he said.

"You really can have your cake and eat it, too."

In other words, when efficiency standards spur designers and manufacturers to innovate, consumer costs go down, period. There is no upfront cost, or, at least, a much smaller one than regulators had assumed.

Since appliances like refrigerators account for about 21 percent of home electricity use, higher efficiency standards make a real difference. "Chu's law" will be fiercely debated, but if it proves correct, it will pave the way for smarter energy consumption. If you're interested, Voosen's article is well worth a read.