Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Debenhams in 'landmark' renewable energy deal

PAMonday, 20 October 2008

Retail giant Debenhams has signed a deal that will mean electricity in all of its stores will be provided by renewable energy.
All 172 of the department chain's stores are to be provided by wind power after the company signed a "landmark" deal with energy supplier Scottish Power.
Debenhams will be supplied with 35 MW of green energy per month, enough to light and heat 50,000 homes.
Outlining the deal, Nigel Palmer from Debenhams, said "This agreement to power our stores with 100% green electricity is part of a long term strategy which reveals the commitment that Debenhams has in helping the environment.
"We are going about this in a systematic manner and looking at all aspects of our operations from the way we deal with customers in stores to our distribution network.
"We will be seeking to continually improve our green performance by setting new targets for our 20,000 staff to meet."
Jim Paterson from Scottish Power said: "In the UK, our commitment to renewable energy has seen us become the leader in developing wind power and at the forefront of other renewable sources such as wave and tidal.
"This agreement with Debenhams is made possible through our continuing commitment to green energy and we hope that this relationship will continue for many years to come."

Queen breezes in to aid wind projects

Crown estate has helped renew interest in offshore projects by agreeing to contribute to pre-construction development costs
Terry Macalister
guardian.co.uk,
Monday October 20 2008 18.14 BST

The Queen has helped trigger a resurgence of interest in wind projects in the deep waters off Britain by promising to invest in projects at a time when onshore and other offshore schemes are struggling to meet their potential in the face of planning delays and other problems.
The decision by the monarch's crown estate, to pay up to half of all pre-construction development costs, has brought a surge in applications for the latest round of wind licensing with almost 100 companies wanting to build farms far into the North Sea.
"The crown estate offering to be a development partner takes away much of the cost and uncertainty with third-round projects, which is why we have seen so much interest in the latest licensing round," said Adam Bruce, chairman of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), on the eve of its annual conference to be opened by Gordon Brown tomorrow.
The Queen's property arm has also shown its willingness to be at the forefront of the battle against climate change by agreeing to buy the world's biggest wind turbine, the 7.5MW Clipper Windpower MBE prototype, codenamed Project Britannia.
The turbine, said to be powerful enough to provide power for 5,500 homes, is under construction in Blyth in north-east England, and will be eventually towed out and erected in the North Sea.
Although deep-water projects were expensive and the cost of steel and other materials was soaring, they could be far more efficient because they could utilise larger turbines and take advantage of stronger prevailing winds, said Bruce.
"Unlike onshore wind schemes, the operator is also only dealing with one planning regime and one landlord in the crown estate which is now offering to be a partner," he added.
The organisation, which has responsibility for licensing the seabed up to 200 miles off-shore for renewable projects, will help pay for the cost of undertaking studies on what impact a particular wind plan would have on shipping and marine life.
The cost of doing that will later be clawed back from revenues once the wind turbines are turning. Ninety-six companies expressed their interest by last month in becoming involved in the third licensing round, far more than in previous rounds. The crown estate is considering the offers and will make a decision on who will win the chance to proceed with schemes on 11 favoured sites, called zones.
A spokeswoman for the crown estate said the response to the licensing round had "greatly exceeded our expectations". The crown estate, which owns large parts of Regent Street, London as well as 55% of Britain's foreshore, traces its history back to the reign of King George the Third, who swapped much of his land for a fixed income from the Treasury.
The deep-water interest is a welcome boost for the wind industry which is still hobbled by problems that ministers have repeatedly promised to sort out. A new planning bill is meant to streamline wind projects but the BWEA pointed out today in a new review that half of the 7GW of wind capacity stuck in the planning system is located in Scotland and not covered by the legislation, while a further 3.5GW is below a 50MW threshold.
There are still difficulties, with the ministry of defence and the aviation industry over the alleged threat to radar coverage posed by wind turbines. Government has again promised help resolve these difficulties but problems remain.
"It is not possible to quantify the risk to a project from an aviation perspective - the objections cannot be easily predicted and a pre-planning statement of no objection is not always valid through the planning process," says the BWEA.
The prime minister will reiterate his determination to clear any logjams and ensure wind reaches its potential. Brown will say that his decision to create an dedicated energy and climate change department is proof of how seriously he takes both global warming and energy security.
Meanwhile, the Carbon Trust will tomorrow announce that it has reached agreement with five major energy companies under which £30m will be invested to find ways to reduce the cost of offshore wind by at least 10%.
Airtricity, ScottishPower Renewables and StatoilHydro will work with RWE Innogy and DONG Energy to research and develop ways of cutting costs and improving efficiency at wind farms at a time of mounting concern that rising costs are chasing investors away from renewables.
The move comes just days after the Carbon Trust, an organisation established by government to help speed up the introduction of clean energy, unveiled a report showing that ministers would fail to meet their offshore wind goals unless a variety of measures were introduced. Among proposals was one allowing operators to develop a new generation of wind farms closer to shore.

North-east of England could become wind power 'capital city'

By Paul Eccleston
Last Updated: 5:01pm BST 20/10/2008
The north-east of England should become the 'capital city' of the UK's booming wind industry, experts have said.

It would act as a magnet for industry, investment and skills in the same way that Aberdeen did for the North Sea oil industry.

Wind turbines: The north-east is where most of the offshore wind farms will be sited
A wind industry hub would encourage supply chains and assembly and bring overseas turbine manufacturers into the UK creating thousands of new jobs.Dr Gordon Edge of the British Wind Energy Authority (BWEA) said the north-east would be a natural choice because it was on the edge of the North Sea where most of the offshore wind farms will be sited.It was also close to Newcastle and Durham universities and the Renewable Energy Centre at Blyth, in Northumberland and had existing port facilities on Teeside.
"It is a probably the favourite although Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth may also be contenders," said Dr Edge, the BWEA's director of economics and marketing."But if we don't make a decision soon on where it should be we run the risk of the industry becoming fragmented and other countries will move in."
Gordon Brown will make a keynote speech at the opening of the BWEA's 30th anniversary annual conference in London tomorrow in a specially recorded video in which he will support a massive expansion in the UK's wind energy programme.
The conference is expected to hear that wind now supplies more than 3GW - about 2.5 per cent - of the 75GW electricity capacity bringing the UK up the fifth place in the European league table.

This is enough to supply 2m homes and saves about 3.5 tonnes of CO2 which would have been produced by conventional gas and coal fired power stations.
The UK has now overtaken Denmark as the largest offshore wind energy generator in the world and within five years will outstrip nuclear energy in terms of generating capacity.
Within the next decade 40GW of power in Europe will come from offshore wind farms and about 50 per cent of the total will be in British waters.The BWEA says the UK is on target to get 10 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010 but the demanding target of getting 15 per cent of all its energy from renewable sources will mean 35 per cent of electricity coming from renewables by 2020.
The industry is confident that it can supply 33GW - almost half of all electricity currently produced - by 2020 if obstacles such as planning delays can be overcome.
Wind power is a key element of the Government's energy strategy because more than one-third of our generating capacity will be lost within the next eight years as old power stations are taken off-line. And a new generation of nuclear plants and clean coal plants fitted with carbon capture technology will not be ready for at least another decade.
Without developing alternative and sustainable sources Britain will be forced to rely increasingly on imported gas from often unstable regions.The switch to renewable energy has so far cost £750m-£800m adding £9 to the average consumer's annual power bill.
The BWEA claims that at its most dynamic the wind industry could attract almost £50bn of investment, create 50,000 jobs and by 2010 earn Britain a 50 per cent share of the European market. But it needed the Government to create a strong policy framework to ensure adequate investment and better incentives and training to meet a skills shortage especially for electrical engineers.
It also called on the Government to free-up the log jam of planning applications for wind farms. Applications currently took an average of two years, more than half were subject to appeals and 7GW of capacity was stuck in the planning system.
Billions of pounds also needed to be spent upgrading and reconfiguring the National Grid to take electricity from the new sustainable industries.
"The industry is poised and waiting but we need a step change for 2020 and a signal from the Government to push on," said Dr Edge.

California's efforts to save energy create jobs, study finds

By Felicity Barringer
Published: October 20, 2008

OAKLAND, California: California's energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007, while eliminating fewer than 25,000, according to a study that was to be released Monday.
The study, conducted by David Roland-Holst, an economist at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the University of California at Berkeley, found that while the state's policies lowered employee compensation in the electric power industry by an estimated $1.6 billion over that period, it improved compensation in the state by $44.6 billion.
Built into that figure were increases of $1.2 billion in the light industrial sector, $11.2 billion in wholesale and retail trade, $7.3 billion in the financial and insurance sectors and $17.8 billion in the service sector. "Consumers were able to reduce energy spending," the study said. "These savings were diverted to other demand."
"When consumers shift one dollar of demand from electricity to groceries," the report said, they create jobs among retailers, wholesalers, food processors and other businesses.
The study, which examined household spending, comes as state and regional initiatives on climate-change policies have been gathering momentum. Meanwhile, arguments have sharpened over how much it will cost the economy to cut the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, which are linked to climate change. Roughly half of U.S. electric power is generated by burning coal, the fuel that produces among the highest greenhouse gas emissions.

Some economists focus their studies on the cost of converting the power grid to run on low-carbon technologies, like wind energy, or the cost of developing technologies to separate the carbon dioxide from coal plant emissions and bury it underground. Others focus on the job-creating potential of new energy industries.
The Berkeley study is different in that it focuses as much on historical data as on modeling the future. California's energy-efficiency policies were adopted in 1978, long before the widespread push for greenhouse gas reductions, but the data they provide were highly relevant to the current economic debate.
Roland-Holst said he based his calculations on residential spending on electricity over the past 30 years, factoring in both the decrease in per-capita demand for electricity - now 40 percent below the national average - and the increase in electrical rates in California, which were about 40 percent above the national average in June. Household spending represents more than 70 percent of the gross state product.
Historically, Roland-Holst said, the decrease in per-capita demand for electricity outstripped the increase in rates. Much of the economic growth, the study said, was driven by efficiency standards for large appliances like refrigerators and for residential and commercial buildings.
In an interview, Roland-Holst said, "What I wanted to do to support the forward-looking vision is go back and look at the evidence we have in front of us."
In two months, California is set to adopt broad policies to enforce a new cap on greenhouse gas emissions that was signed into law two years ago. More detailed regulations will then be developed. That process is likely to be contentious, as it divides the overall costs of the new program among competing sectors of the state's economy.

Thais Lead Drive to Natural-Gas Cars

Subsidies, Volatility of Oil Prices Spur Move Even as a Campaign Starts in U.S. to Get Americans to Switch
By PATRICK BARTA

Bangkok
An unusual alliance of energy tycoons and environmentalists is trying -- with limited success -- to persuade skeptical Americans to start running their cars on natural gas instead of gasoline.
But in many developing countries, the switch is already on, driven by the volatile price of gasoline, the accessibility of natural gas, hefty consumer subsidies and concern about the environment.
View SlideshowPatrick Barta/The Wall Street Journal
Besides the small tanks, drivers complain of poor acceleration in CNG vehicles. There still aren't enough fueling stations set up to sell natural gas, so many users wait in line for 45 minutes or more to fill their tank.
In Thailand, drivers have converted or purchased more than 40,000 natural-gas-burning cars and trucks in the past six months. Local energy officials say they expect the number of natural-gas cars -- which in many cases are able to run on gasoline as well as natural gas -- to nearly triple by 2012 to 330,000.
Natural-gas-powered cars are among the hottest sellers in Bangkok, where long queues of drivers line up to buy the fuel every day. Kanika Kamdee, a 50-year-old psychology professor, paid 60,000 Thai baht ($1,795) last year to modify her Nissan sedan so that it could use natural gas.
The lower price for natural gas at the pump here has meant "big savings" in her monthly fuel bill, she says. She paid just 102 baht, or $3.05, to fill her tank one recent afternoon -- enough fuel to travel 93 miles.
And the switch isn't just happening in Thailand. Natural-gas cars are accelerating into the mainstream across the developing world. Pakistan, Brazil and Argentina each have more than 1.5 million of them on the streets, while India's fleet is approaching one million. China is also promoting the cars in some cities.
The cars appeal to environmentalists because natural gas is relatively clean burning. Some energy executives also hope that increased use of the vehicles will boost demand for natural gas.
In the U.S., one big booster, Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens, has blanketed the airwaves with ads calling for more natural-gas vehicles to help curb America's use of imported crude.
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and California have pitched plans calling for cash rebates and other incentives for people to purchase natural-gas vehicles. Honda Motor Co. now offers a natural-gas-fueled car in the U.S. market. But drivers in the U.S. -- the world's biggest oil consumer -- still haven't embraced the new fuel, and so far Honda is building only a couple of thousand natural-gas Civics a year.
Thailand's experience may offer some lessons on how to increase demand. Like the U.S., the Southeast Asian nation of 65 million people imports large amounts of crude oil -- about 800,000 barrels a day. But, also like the U.S., it has generous supplies of natural gas that could be tapped to power cars and trucks.
As oil prices climbed in 2004, the Thai government stepped up efforts to promote alternative fuels, including ethanol and compressed natural gas, or CNG.
Thai officials offered discounts to some drivers to convert their gasoline engines to CNG power and sent experts to Argentina and elsewhere to see what other countries were doing to promote natural gas.
Thailand also took a critical step that would be hard to duplicate in the U.S.: It pressed its state-controlled oil company, PTT PCL, to fix the price of CNG at roughly 25 cents, a kilogram. While it's difficult to make direct comparisons with conventional gasoline -- which in Thailand is measured in liters -- CNG's fixed price made it much cheaper than gasoline and diesel fuel.
The cost of the subsidy, now roughly $150 million a year, is absorbed by PTT. The company also had to build a network of fueling stations for the natural gas.
"We want to support the government policy and bring lower-cost products to our customers," says Chitrapongse Kwangsukstith, chief operating officer of PTT's upstream petroleum and gas division.
With so little domestic oil, "we need to substitute with alternative sources," he says.
In the beginning, even with the subsidy, the public response to CNG was lukewarm. But drivers grew more interested when oil prices surged earlier this year.
At Super Central Gas Co., a garage that specializes in converting engines to natural gas, mechanics modify the engine and then install one or more CNG storage tanks, usually in the vehicle's trunk. The process takes several days and costs car owners about $1,900. The sales staff says the garage is handling about 800 conversions a month, up from about 500 a month last year.
According to PTT officials, about 115,000 vehicles now run on CNG in Thailand, compared with only about 1,000 in 2003. About half of Bangkok's taxi fleet uses the fuel. Some consumers have expressed concern about the safety of the tanks, but PTT says it believes the risks are very low.
Not everybody is happy with the CNG-powered cars, though. Because of the size and capacity of their fuel tanks, they can't travel as far on CNG as they could on gasoline. And there still aren't enough fueling stations equipped to sell natural gas, so many users must wait in line for 45 minutes or more.
"Now I'm feeling sad" about converting, acknowledges Napunchita Thaima, a 35-year-old construction-equipment saleswoman who had her Honda sedan modified three months ago. Her car is slow to accelerate, she grumbles.
Other drivers are more enthusiastic -- as long as the new fuel is cheap. PTT says it plans to increase the retail price of CNG soon but intends to hold the price below that for gasoline. In the long run, analysts believe today's subsidies will help develop a larger market for CNG that could someday make supplying the fuel for vehicles a profitable business for PTT.
But PTT's Mr. Chitrapongse doubts the U.S. will convert to natural gas as quickly as Thailand has. For Americans, gasoline, even when its price soars, is a much smaller part of the budget than it is for Thais, whose incomes are lower. That means Americans may feel less urgency to put up with the hassles of CNG, he says.
But for companies whose businesses gobble up lots of fuel, eroding profits, CNG "is probably a good way to go," he says.
-- Wilawan Watcharasakwet contributed to this article.
Write to Patrick Barta at patrick.barta@wsj.com

Coskata to Sell Ethanol Product in China

By NORIHIKO SHIROUZU

BEIJING -- Coskata Inc., a closely-held U.S. biofuels company, said Monday it is aiming to enter the Chinese market in the medium term to produce and sell a type of ethanol made not from food grains like corn, but using all sorts of waste.
Coskata Chief Marketing Officer Wes Bolsen said the Illinois-based company believes China, already one of the world's top ethanol-producing countries, has the potential to become the world's biggest producer soon.
Coskata wants to tap that market potential "through technology licensing or partnerships," he said, speaking to reporters at a biofuel symposium at Beijing's Tsinghua University.
General Motors Corp., eager to reposition itself as a forward-thinking company, earlier this year announced a deal to take a stake in Coskata.
Coskata's propriety technology allows it to produce ethanol using agricultural and forest waste, as well as municipal solid waste like tires and plastic bottles. Technologies such as Coskata's "are rapidly moving to commercialization," Mr. Bolsen said. Its first full-fledged commercial plant in the U.S. is expected to start production in 2011.
Mr. Bolsen said Coskata would like build production facilities and develop distribution infrastructure with local partners as long as it could protect its propriety technology. He declined name potential partners because it is in a very early stage of what potentially could be a multiple year process to establish a presence in China.
One of the biggest hurdles Coskata will likely face is a general view in China by policymakers and others that ethanol threatens the country's food security.
Many ethanol companies in the U.S. came under attack in recent months because of a debate over the environmental impact of the cultivation, processing and shipping necessary to bring the fuel additive to market, as well as its impact on food prices.
Mr. Bolsen is confident the process Coskata has developed to convert cellulosic biomass, or fibrous plant material, into ethanol doesn't threaten anybody's food security, and that China's policymakers and others would understand the technology is "very important" for a country seeking to move away from a heavy reliance on imported oil.
By using forest and agricultural waste alone, such as wood material that typically goes unused when timber is harvested, Mr. Bolsen estimated China could easily produce 50 billion gallons of biofuel. That's enough to replace the oil China imports from overseas today, he noted.
Write to Norihiko Shirouzu at norihiko.shirouzu@wsj.com

Future planes, cars may be made of 'buckypaper'

The Associated Press
Published: October 21, 2008

TALLAHASSEE, Florida: It's called "buckypaper" and looks a lot like ordinary carbon paper, but don't be fooled by the cute name or flimsy appearance. It could revolutionize the way everything from airplanes to TVs are made.
Buckypaper is 10 times lighter but potentially 500 times stronger than steel when sheets of it are stacked and pressed together to form a composite. Unlike conventional composite materials, though, it conducts electricity like copper or silicon and disperses heat like steel or brass.
"All those things are what a lot of people in nanotechnology have been working toward as sort of Holy Grails," said Wade Adams, a scientist at Rice University.
That idea — that there is great future promise for buckypaper and other derivatives of the ultra-tiny cylinders known as carbon nanotubes — has been floated for years now. However, researchers at Florida State University say they have made important progress that may soon turn hype into reality.
Buckypaper is made from tube-shaped carbon molecules 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. Due to its unique properties, it is envisioned as a wondrous new material for light, energy-efficient aircraft and automobiles, more powerful computers, improved TV screens and many other products.

So far, buckypaper can be made at only a fraction of its potential strength, in small quantities and at a high price. The Florida State researchers are developing manufacturing techniques that soon may make it competitive with the best composite materials now available.
"If this thing goes into production, this very well could be a very, very game-changing or revolutionary technology to the aerospace business," said Les Kramer, chief technologist for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, which is helping fund the Florida State research.
The scientific discovery that led to buckypaper virtually came from outer space.
In 1985, British scientist Harry Kroto joined researchers at Rice University for an experiment to create the same conditions that exist in a star. They wanted to find out how stars, the source of all carbon in the universe, make the element that is a main building block of life.
Everything went as planned with one exception.
"There was an extra character that turned up totally unexpected," recalled Kroto, now at Florida State heading a program that encourages the study of math, science and technology in public schools. "It was a discovery out of left field."
The surprise guest was a molecule with 60 carbon atoms shaped like a soccer ball. To Kroto, it also looked like the geodesic domes promoted by Buckminster Fuller, an architect, inventor and futurist. That inspired Kroto to name the new molecule buckminsterfullerene, or "buckyballs" for short.
For their discovery of the buckyball — the third form of pure carbon to be discovered after graphite and diamonds — Kroto and his Rice colleagues, Robert Curl Jr. and Richard E. Smalley, were awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1996.
Separately, Japanese physicist Sumio Iijima developed a tube-shaped variation while doing research at Arizona State University.
Researchers at Smalley's laboratory then inadvertently found that the tubes would stick together when disbursed in a liquid suspension and filtered through a fine mesh, producing a thin film — buckypaper.
The secret of its strength is the huge surface area of each nanotube, said Ben Wang, director of Florida State's High-Performance Materials Institute.
"If you take a gram of nanotubes, just one gram, and if you unfold every tube into a graphite sheet, you can cover about two-thirds of a football field," Wang said.
Carbon nanotubes are already beginning to be used to strengthen tennis rackets and bicycles, but in small amounts. The epoxy resins used in those applications are 1 to 5 percent carbon nanotubes, which are added in the form of a fine powder. Buckypaper, which is a thin film rather than a powder, has a much higher nanotube content — about 50 percent.
One challenge is that the tubes clump together at odd angles, limiting their strength in buckypaper. Wang and his fellow researchers found a solution: Exposing the tubes to high magnetism causes most of them to line up in the same direction, increasing their collective strength.
Another problem is the tubes are so perfectly smooth it's hard to hold them together with epoxy. Researchers are looking for ways to create some surface defects — but not too many — to improve bonding.
So far, the Florida State institute has been able to produce buckypaper with half the strength of the best existing composite material, known as IM7. Wang expects to close the gap quickly.
"By the end of next year we should have a buckypaper composite as strong as IM7, and it's 35 percent lighter," Wang said.
Buckypaper now is being made only in the laboratory, but Florida State is in the early stages of spinning out a company to make commercial buckypaper.
"These guys have actually demonstrated materials that are capable of being used on flying systems," said Adams, director of Rice's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. "Having something that you can hold in your hand is an accomplishment in nanotechnology."
It takes upward of five years to get a new structural material certified for aviation use, so Wang said he expects buckypaper's first uses will be for electromagnetic interference shielding and lightning-strike protection on aircraft.
Electrical circuits and even natural causes such as the sun or Northern Lights can interfere with radios and other electronic gear. Buckypaper provides up to four times the shielding specified in a recent Air Force contract proposal, Wang said.
Typically, conventional composite materials have a copper mesh added for lightning protection. Replacing copper with buckypaper would save weight and fuel.
Wang demonstrated this with a composite model plane and a stun gun. Zapping an unprotected part of the model caused sparks to fly. The electric jolt, though, passed harmlessly across another section shielded by a strip of buckypaper.
Other near-term uses would be as electrodes for fuel cells, super capacitors and batteries, Wang said. Next in line, buckypaper could be a more efficient and lighter replacement for graphite sheets used in laptop computers to dissipate heat, which is harmful to electronics.
The long-range goal is to build planes, automobiles and other things with buckypaper composites. The military also is looking at it for use in armor plating and stealth technology.
"Our plan is perhaps in the next 12 months we'll begin maybe to have some commercial products," Wang said. "Nanotubes obviously are no longer just lab wonders. They have real world potential. It's real."

Dark Green ‘carborexics’: The obsessive generation of extreme environmental activists

Psychiatrists in the United States are warning that extreme environmental awareness may be creating a generation of “carborexics”.

By Tom Leonard in New York Last Updated: 6:48AM BST 21 Oct 2008

A new survey claims that seven per cent of Americans now qualify as “dark green”, hard core recyclers and carbon footprint worriers. But it is unclear whether some of their behaviour qualifies as eco-leadership or bordering on the obsessive-compulsive.
A report in the New York Times found evidence of all manner of lifestyles that might be considered carborexic. Dark green activities in the US include running cars on waste vegetable oil and using one’s lawn as a bathroom to save water. Others sleep en masse to reduce heating bills.
Sharon Astyk, a farmer in New York state, is using a special calculator to reduce her family’s energy consumption to 10 per cent of the national average.
She and her husband grow almost all their own produce, keep chickens and turkeys, and spend less than £500 on consumer goods each year, most of which are second-hand.
Their four children often sleep in a huddle to conserve body heat. Miss Astyk said she was aware that some neighbours regarded them as “energy anorexics” but said their attitude had softened as energy prices had risen.
Anita Lavine and Joe Turcotte, a couple in Seattle, reuse the same Ziploc bag for a year.
When her two small children return from kindergarten, Miss Lavine scrubs the bag that held their soiled clothes and biodegradable nappies so she can use them the next day.
She keeps the thermostat in their home at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and is about to acquire three chickens to enhance the family’s recycling and self-sufficiency.
“My friends think I’m the craziest person,” she said.
Jay Matsueda, a Californian, runs his Mercedes on waste oil from a local restaurant and gives reusable bamboo cutlery as presents so people do not need to take plastic cutlery from takeaways.
He occasionally relieves himself on his lawn to “save a flush”, he told the newspaper.
David Chameides, a Los Angeles cameraman, is collecting all the waste he accumulates in a year in his basement and writing about it regularly on an internet blog.
But some mental health experts are worried. “If you can’t have something in your house that isn’t green or organic... if you’re criticising friends because they’re not living up to your standards of green, that’s a problem,” said Elizabeth Carl, a psychologist and specialist in obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Dr Jack Hirschowitz, a New York psychiatrist, said such behaviour qualified as a disorder if it was taking precedence over everything else in the subject’s life.
David Zucker, a sustainability specialist at Porter Novelli, a PR company which has studied America’s “dark greens”, said they were inordinately influential over other people’s behaviour.
He said the “deepest dark greens” were “bordering on the fanatic”, adding: “They’re pushing towards a lifestyle of zero consumption”.
He added: “You know Americans. We take everything to an extreme.”

Rolls-Royce brings propeller engines back in vogue


Aviation company claims the design could cut an airline's fuel bills and greenhouse gas emissions by 30%
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent
guardian.co.uk,
Monday October 20 2008 10.36 BST

Charles Lindbergh poses with his plane The Spirit of St Louis in 1927. Photograph: AP
It evokes images of the vintage days of aviation, when flying around the world was a luxury few could afford. But propeller-driven aircraft, inspired by the iconic Spirit of St Louis, could make a return thanks to innovative fuel-saving designs.
The Guardian has learned that Rolls-Royce recently cleared a major hurdle in testing its new design for a propeller-driven engine, involving a double rotor and new blade shape. Engineers have called Rolls-Royce's design a "tremendously significant" step forward.
The company claims the design could cut an airline's fuel bills and greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. "We're talking about saving $3m or 10,000 tonnes of CO2 per year per aircraft if you introduce an open-rotor on to a 100-200-seater aircraft," said Mark Taylor, an engineer at Rolls-Royce who is leading a project to design the next generation of aircraft engines.
Modern propeller-driven engines, also known as advanced open rotors or turboprops, are acknowledged to be more fuel efficient than the turbofan and turbojet engines used by most aircraft today. But, despite much research and testing by all the major engine manufaturers in the early 1980s, they never caught on, partly because they are far noisier. But with the growth in aviation causing major environmental concerns, aeronautical engineers believe that the open-rotor engine could have a new lease of life.
"We believe that, based on our test, we can produce a quiet and efficient open-rotor engine," said Taylor. The company believes its design would be quieter than any aircraft in operation today.
Rod Self, an acoustic engineer who works on aircraft engines at Southampton University said Rolls-Royce's latest work was "tremendously significant — they are a significant player in this market. On the noise front, they've got the best models going and … a lead on others in the field."
Efficiency improvements are sorely needed, said Alice Bows, a climate scientist at the University of Manchester's Tyndall Centre who specialises in aviation's environmental impact, said: "The amount of CO2 from aviation looks to be 2-3%, a relatively small proportion of the world's total. But you've got annual growth of 6-7% in terms of passenger kilometres with efficiency improvement only at around 1%."
Turbofan engines work by sucking in air with a enclosed fan at the front of the engine. Most of this air is pushed out of the back to produce the thrust needed, with the rest used to burn fuel to drive the fan. The more air that is pushed out rather than burned, known as the bypass ratio, the more efficient the engine is. Put simply, open-rotor engines have a higher bypass ratio than turbofans or turbojets for an equivalent-sized device.
Another reason for the higher efficiency of open-rotor engines is that, unlike traditional engines, they do not have a casing around the propeller. The casing increases weight and drag. "Because you've removed the [casing], you're able to go to much bigger fan diameters and not incur the weight and drag penalties," said Taylor.
The airline industry has been here before. The oil crisis in the late 1970s encouraged engineers to design engines inspired by the old propeller-aircraft of the first half of the 20th century but incorporating the jet technology used in the more modern aircraft engines.
American engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney and General Electric, both funded by Nasa, flew open-rotor designs for several hundred hours on McDonnell Douglas and Boeing aircraft. But two factors prevented open rotors from being used commercially — noise and propeller designs. In addition, the drop in the price of oil meant there was no great incentive to save fuel.
But the rise in the price of oil over the past year coupled with environmental concerns mean that efficient engine designs once again look attractive.
Rolls-Royce's design uses two sets of propellers near the rear of the engine, which rotate in opposite directions. This reduces the energy wasted when propellers twist some of the air, rather than pushing it all straight backwards. "If you have a second set spinning in the opposite direction, you untwist it and recover the energy from that air. That goes into useful force to drive the aircraft forward," said Self. "But it's even more noisy."
The sources of noise in an open-rotor engine come from different aspects of the propeller, such as their thickness and whether the tips spin faster than the speed of sound. Rolls Royce's engineers specifically tackled these problems by increasing the number of blades on the rotors, changing their shape from the traditional elongated to a more squat design and making the blades thinner. The result was, claims Rolls-Royce, a set of rotors that can turn at a slower speed — and hence make less noise — while maintaining a high efficiency.
The British-based company is not the only one investigating the open-rotor concept. General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and French company Snecma all have open-rotor prototypes under construction, though commercial secrecy means their progress is unclear.
Taylor said there was a choice for airlines. "You could go for a low-noise advanced turbofan or you could trade that for some noise and go for a much more efficient engine and that is the question we're asking the aviation industry. What would you rather have — a bit better noise profile or better fuel burn and lower CO2?"

Climate change accelerating far beyond the IPCC forecast, WWF says

By Paul Eccleston
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 20/10/2008
Climate change is happening much faster than the world's best scientists predicted and will wreak havoc unless action is taken on a global scale, a new report warns.

Extreme weather events such as the hot summer of 2003, which caused an extra 35,000 deaths across southern Europe from heat stress and poor air quality, will happen more frequently.

Power station emissions: The report predicts the collapse of eco systems on both land and sea
Britain and the North Sea area will be hit more often by violent cyclones and sea level rise predictions will double to more than a metre putting vast coastal areas at risk from flooding.The bleak report from WWF - formerly the World Wildlife Fund - also predicts crops failures and the collapse of eco systems on both land and sea.
And it calls on the EU to set an example to the rest of the world by agreeing a package of challenging targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to tackle the consequences of climate change and to keep any increase in global temperatures below 2ÂșC.
The report says that the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - a study of global warming by 4,000 scientists from more than 150 countries which alerted the world to the possible consequences of global warming - is now out of date.
WWF's report, Climate Change: Faster, stronger, sooner, has updated all the scientific data and concluded that global warming is accelerating far beyond the IPCC's forecasts.

As an example it says the first tipping point may have already been reached in the Arctic where sea ice is disappearing up to 30 years ahead of IPCC predictions and may be gone completely within five years - something that hasn't occurred for 1m years. This could result in rapid and abrupt climate change rather than the gradual changes forecast by the IPCC.
The findings include:
* Global sea level rise could more than double from the IPCC's estimate of 0.59m by the end of the century.
* Natural carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, are losing their ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere faster than expected.
* Rising temperatures have already led to a major reduction in food crops resulting in losses of 40m tonnes of grain per year.
* Marine ecosystems in the North and Baltic Sea are being exposed to the warmest temperatures measured since records began.
* The number and intensity of extreme cyclones over the UK and North Sea are projected to increase, leading to increased wind speeds and storm-related losses over Western and Central Europe.
The report was issued to coincide with a meeting of EU Environment Ministers today (mon) to discuss new laws aimed at tackling climate change. Some countries, including Italy and Poland, have already rejected proposals for higher cuts in emissions claiming they are unaffordable and unrealistic when many countries are facing recession.
The UK is the only country so far to commit to a legally binding 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 which the Government claims can be achieved by a switch to renewable energy sources - such as wind and wave - combined with a new generation of nuclear power stations.
In the report WWF urges the EU to commit to a reduction target of at least 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 without relying on offsetting overseas and to provide financial support so developing countries can cut their own emissions and prepare for unavoidable impacts of climate change.
WWF-UK's Head of Climate Change, Dr. Keith Allott, said: "Climate change is a major challenge to the future of mankind and the environment, and this sobering overview highlights just how critical it is that EU Environment Ministers, who are meeting today to discuss EU legislation to tackle climate change, commit to a strong climate and energy package, in order to ensure a low carbon future.
If the European Union wants to be seen as leader at UN talks in Copenhagen next year, and to help secure a strong global deal to tackle climate change after 2012, then it must stop shirking its responsibilities and commit to real emissions cuts within Europe."
The report has been endorsed by Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the newly elected Vice Chair of the IPCC, who said: "It is clear that climate change is already having a greater impact than most scientists had anticipated, so it's vital that international mitigation and adaptation responses become swifter and more ambitious."

In tough times, some in EU try to backpedal on climate pledge

By James Kanter
Published: October 20, 2008

BRUSSELS: Does the European Union's vaunted role as a global leader in combating climate change risk becoming the next victim of the financial crisis?
Policies aimed at improving sustainability and the environment often are put on the back burner in times of financial hardship. Despite the global attention being paid to the dangers of climate change, this time is beginning to look no different.
As the threats of global recession and rising unemployment loom large in the wake of expensive bank bailouts, some EU leaders are demanding that the trade bloc backpedal on a pledge - announced with much fanfare last spring - to cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent and to generate 20 percent of power through renewable sources by 2020.
At a meeting Monday in Luxembourg, the Italian environment minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, warned that her country had "many requests for changes," and would only support turning the potentially expensive pledge into a European law if the whole thing could be reviewed again next year.
That follows threats by prime ministers Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, Donald Tusk of Poland, Ivars Godmanis of Latvia and others at the EU summit meeting in Brussels last week to veto the measures unless they were watered down.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has pushed EU leaders to stick to the deadline of December. That is also when negotiations are to start on extending beyond 2012 global efforts at cutting greenhouse gases under the Kyoto climate treaty. But it is looking less likely.
"There is now a greater possibility that the EU misses a deadline it set for itself," Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said Monday. "That would call into question Europe's willingness to back up an offer that was applauded by the whole world with specific policies."
EU leaders left the summit meeting last week saying that they would need unanimity to push forward.
Meanwhile, the imminent election of a new president of the United States is likely to make policy on climate change more proactive. That could further diminish the global influence that Europeans so far have been able to claim.
"We should not rule out that at some stage whoever becomes president may have completely new ideas," said Christian Egenhofer, an energy and climate expert at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. "If the EU doesn't have its policies in place it could be a very weak discussion partner."
Some energy experts say that EU policy makers seriously misunderstood how difficult it would be to transform the energy sector.
Thomas Schneider, a member of IEEE, a professional association for the advancement of technology, said that some of the most direct ways to lower CO2 would be to roll out large numbers of windmills and nuclear power plants. But he warned that even under the most promising timelines, that would be difficult for Europe to achieve by 2020.
"The financial crisis has exacerbated the issue of how Europe would meet its targets, but this is mainly an engineering problem," Schneider said.
Even before the credit crunch became a full-fledged banking crisis, European countries were displaying different levels of enthusiasm for the measures.
On one side are Poland and other coal-dependent nations in Eastern Europe, as well as Italy. These countries face potentially higher costs under a system that caps carbon dioxide emissions from heavy industry, as introduced in 2005.
Italy also faces a precarious fiscal situation, and Berlusconi's center-right government is loath to spend more money on greener technologies.
Some of these countries also say that they are being asked to do too much too quickly in areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency.
On the other side is France, which generates most of its power from nuclear sources that are virtually free of CO2, and Britain, which broadly favors climate regulation, partly because it has become a global hub for trading permits to emit carbon dioxide. Also favoring regulation are the Dutch and most of the Nordic countries, which have successfully implemented a number of initiatives to replace fossil fuel-fired power with renewable sources of energy.
EU officials in Brussels warn that signs of a weakening commitment by European leaders to fighting climate change could start a chain reaction, lowering ambitions among other central players, like China and India. The resolve of some developing countries to participate in a global climate deal could also weaken if they anticipate that a cash-strapped Europe will become stingier.
The EU system to control emissions is based on the sale of permits to emit carbon that are worth billions of euros. Under the planned overhaul of the system, industries would have to pay for a substantially larger portion of those permits than in the past.
Revenue would likely be earmarked for EU governments, but some of the funds could go toward helping developing countries combat climate change, like helping them avoid deforestation in exchange for commitments to upgrade their own efforts to fight global warning.
De Boer, the UN climate official, said that developing nations already had made it clear that they expected more financial support in exchange for becoming part of a global agreement.
He added that one positive result of the financial crisis might be seen if governments are able to tweak the rules on loans when it comes time to sell the banks in which they have taken stakes. They could require bankers to review their investments more carefully for risks related to global warming.
"We're in this pickle in the first place because these banks made unwise loans," de Boer said. "Giving a loan that doesn't take climate change into account also is an unwise loan."

Pollution Credits Let Dumps Double Dip

Landfills Find New Revenue in Trading System Meant to Curb Greenhouse Emissions
By JEFFREY BALL

CAPE MAY COUNTY, N.J. -- America's garbage dumps are reaping a windfall from the fight against global warming. But their payday might not be doing much to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
For more than a decade, the landfill here has made extra profit simply by collecting methane given off by rotting trash, and selling it as fuel. Last year, the landfill learned that doing this also qualified it to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars via a new program that pays companies to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions.
Eliminating methane lets dumps sell "carbon credits" to environmentally conscious people and companies. The long-term goal of trading credits -- basically, vouchers representing reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases -- is to reduce global pollution by encouraging others to cut emissions when the buyers of the credits can't or won't cut their own.

Trash Dumps Cash In on Carbon Credits2:31
Concerns are mounting about projects that earn carbon credits for business practices they've been doing anyway. (Oct. 20)
"It seemed a little suspicious that we could get money for doing nothing," says Charles Norkis, executive director of the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority, which has raised $427,475 selling credits since February, or 3% of the authority's projected solid-waste revenue for the year.
The sale of credits by these landfills undermines a premise of the global fight against climate change. The credit system was designed to encourage pollution cuts that wouldn't have happened without a financial incentive. But the credits aren't helping the environment if they're merely providing extra profit for cleanups already made. And dumps already have an incentive to capture methane because selling it can be profitable.
The biggest carbon-credit market in the U.S. is the Chicago Climate Exchange. It's an experiment in which polluting companies are trying to develop an inexpensive way to comply with limits on greenhouse-gas emissions that they expect the government to impose. The companies promise to cut emissions partly by retooling their facilities, and partly -- and often more cheaply -- by buying extra credits representing reductions made at landfills or other outside sources.
Over the past two years, landfills from Pennsylvania to North Dakota have started selling extra credits on the Chicago exchange to profit from methane they were capturing anyway.
Jeffrey Ball/The Wall Street Journal
James Warner, executive director of the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, beside a methane-capture well.
Selling credits is "gravy to us," says Katherine Vesey, comptroller of the utility authority in Atlantic County, N.J., which was profitably capturing methane for two years before it started selling credits on the Chicago exchange.
The majority of the emission cuts reported by the Chicago Climate Exchange come from member companies' own facilities -- energy-efficiency improvements at factories, for instance. Only a small slice of the reported emission cuts come from outside projects such as landfills, the exchange says.
But the exchange acknowledges that on some of those outside projects, it is authorizing the sale of credits for cleanups that had been performed anyway. Richard Sandor, the exchange's chairman, says that doing so rewards "early action" and encourages other landfills to capture methane too.
Mr. Sandor says the exchange's main goal is to help develop a commodity that has financial value under any possible future U.S. law that to regulates greenhouse-gas emissions. The debate over whether or not a polluter would have cut its greenhouse-gas emissions without the financial incentive of credit sales is "quite interesting, but that's not my business," Mr. Sandor says. "I'm running a for-profit company."
The sale of credits is tied to rising interest among corporations and individuals in reducing their "carbon footprints," or the environmental impact of their daily activities. The U.S. carbon-credit trade more than doubled in value last year, to $131 million.
Outside credits from landfills represent only about 1% of the total emission cuts reported by the Chicago exchange. However, they point to growing questions about the environmental legitimacy of the broader carbon-credit trade. The federal government is joining the scrutiny. Last month, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, concluded that the trade offers "limited assurance of credibility" that carbon credits represent real reductions in pollution.
The Federal Trade Commission also is examining whether the marketing is deceptive -- in particular, whether credits really represent emission cuts that wouldn't otherwise have happened. With a tangible product, say, an apple, a buyer can easily judge a seller's claims that it's "crisp and juicy and red," says James Kohm, associate director of the FTC's enforcement division. Intangible products, such as pollution credits, "have a greater potential for deception."
Each credit represents one ton of carbon dioxide, or an equally potent amount of other greenhouse gases, prevented from being released. Currently, a credit sells for about $2 on the Chicago exchange.
There is no single organization policing the sale or environmental soundness of credits in the U.S. In addition to the Chicago Climate Exchange, other organizations include the state-founded California Climate Action Registry and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that's set to impose emission limits on power plants in 10 Northeastern states starting Jan. 1. Each organization has its own rules.
By contrast, most other industrialized countries have a more regulated system. The Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 agreement to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, created a global market in which companies in industrialized nations are required to cut their emissions over time. Those cuts can be achieved, in part, by buying credits from companies that reduce emissions. The U.S. didn't ratify Kyoto.
The global market is policed by the United Nations. A U.N. board reviews potential carbon-credit projects in an attempt to determine whether they're providing pollution cuts that wouldn't otherwise have occurred.
Both major presidential candidates, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, say they support imposing a mandatory limit on U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Concerns about carbon credits have big implications for how much such a limit would cost.

James Warner
That system would likely follow the so-called cap-and-trade model: The government would cap the amount of greenhouse gas companies could emit, and companies could meet the caps by cutting their own pollution or in part by trading in credits representing cuts elsewhere.
Now, a fight is erupting on Capitol Hill over how much latitude any cap-and-trade system should give companies to buy credits. Big polluters, particularly electricity producers, are lobbying for wide latitude, because credits can be a cheaper way to comply while they work on retooling their operations. Some members of Congress, questioning the credits' legitimacy, are pushing back.
Meantime, it is institutions like the Chicago Climate Exchange that are testing various ways to identify the middle ground. Under the Chicago exchange's rules, not all landfills qualify to sell credits. Larger landfills are ineligible because they're already required by federal law to capture their gas for air-pollution reasons. But that leaves hundreds of smaller U.S. landfills eligible, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
The first landfill to join the Chicago exchange is in Lancaster County, Pa., about an hour's drive west of Philadelphia. The Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority spent about $1.5 million to install machinery back in 2005 to capture methane instead of letting it escape into the air. It makes about $50,000 a year selling the gas to a local power company. The power company uses some of it to generate steam for the Turkey Hill Dairy, a big ice-cream maker nearby. It uses the rest to make electricity.
The money the authority earns from selling gas is a tiny slice of its $55 million yearly budget. The authority never intended to make money on the project, says James Warner, its executive director.
In June 2006, Mr. Warner was attending a trash-industry conference in Nashville when he came upon a booth for the Chicago Climate Exchange. There, Mr. Warner learned that his landfill also qualified to sell carbon credits.
"Long story short, it was like, 'Holy s -- !'" Mr. Warner says.
The Chicago exchange accepts pollution credits from landfills that began capturing methane as far back as 1999, four years before the exchange began trading credits.
Mr. Sandor of the Chicago exchange predicts the federal government will settle on similar rules. That means companies that buy credits on the Chicago exchange today stand a good chance of being able to use them to comply with any future federal emissions rules.

Other credit-trading programs have slightly tougher rules than the Chicago exchange. For instance, the California program lets landfills sell credits based on methane-capture systems installed only since 2001, which gives its credits more "credibility," says Gary Gero of the California registry. Its credits sell on average for more than those on the Chicago exchange.
Among the companies buying credits on the Chicago exchange is American Electric Power Co., an Ohio-based electricity producer that's one of the largest U.S. greenhouse-gas emitters.
Bruce Braine, an AEP executive who sits on the Chicago exchange's board, says he views the exchange's rules as rigorous. But he acknowledges that it's often unclear whether or not the credits actually represent new pollution reductions.
That judgment will only get tougher, he says. "In most of the cases going forward, you're not going to know whether they would have" installed equipment to curb emissions even without the financial incentive from selling credits.
Another buyer of credits on the Chicago exchange is Fintura Corp., an Atlanta company that designs specialty credit cards. Last year, Fintura, working with MetaBank, a unit of Meta Financial Group Inc., launched the GreenPay MasterCard to appeal to environmentally conscious customers. For every dollar spent using the card, Fintura buys a fraction of a carbon credit.
Like most Chicago-exchange buyers, Fintura buys its credits without knowing their specific origin. Andrew Mathieson, Fintura's chief executive, knows landfills produce some credits, but trusts the Chicago exchange as "one of the best sources out there" for credits in the U.S.

Told that some landfills are selling credits on the Chicago exchange for methane-collection equipment they had installed already, Mr. Mathieson says that if "all of the credits I'm buying are that, would I have the same degree of comfort? I would not."
MetaBank, based in Storm Lake, Iowa, declined to comment.
After coming across the Chicago exchange at the trash conference, Mr. Warner told his staff in Lancaster to apply for selling credits. In October 2006, it made its first carbon-credit sale, netting $26,600 after paying $11,900 in fees and commissions to the exchange.
Including that initial trade, Lancaster County has so far made about $320,727 selling credits on the Chicago exchange. It's as if, Mr. Warner says, "I looked under a rock and found a couple hundred thousand bucks."
Mr. Warner has encouraged other landfill executives to join the credit program. Among them: Michael Pavelek II at a landfill in Lebanon County, Pa., about an hour's drive from Lancaster.
The Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority had installed a methane-capture system a quarter-century ago. In 2006, after the tip from Mr. Warner, Mr. Pavelek signed his landfill up for the Chicago exchange. The Lebanon County dump has since made about $125,000 selling carbon credits. It also sells its gas to a local power company.
Now, though, Mr. Pavelek fears the easy money could soon end. Pennsylvania regulators have discussed requiring even small landfills to capture their methane. But, under the Chicago exchange's rules, landfills that are required by law to capture methane aren't permitted to sell credits.
So Mr. Pavelek is now shopping for an authority with looser guidelines that will still accept his credits if Pennsylvania law changes. "We're just trying to get credit for whatever we can while it's available," he says.
Write to Jeffrey Ball at jeffrey.ball@wsj.com

Obama's Carbon Ultimatum

The coming offer you won't be able to refuse.

Liberals pretend that only President Bush is preventing the U.S. from adopting some global warming "solution." But occasionally their mask slips. As Barack Obama's energy adviser has now made clear, the would-be President intends to blackmail -- or rather, greenmail -- Congress into falling in line with his climate agenda.

Jason Grumet is currently executive director of an outfit called the National Commission on Energy Policy and one of Mr. Obama's key policy aides. In an interview last week with Bloomberg, Mr. Grumet said that come January the Environmental Protection Agency "would initiate those rulemakings" that classify carbon as a dangerous pollutant under current clean air laws. That move would impose new regulation and taxes across the entire economy, something that is usually the purview of Congress. Mr. Grumet warned that "in the absence of Congressional action" 18 months after Mr. Obama's inauguration, the EPA would move ahead with its own unilateral carbon crackdown anyway.
Well, well. For years, Democrats -- including Senator Obama -- have been howling about the "politicization" of the EPA, which has nominally been part of the Bush Administration. The complaint has been that the White House blocked EPA bureaucrats from making the so-called "endangerment finding" on carbon. Now it turns out that a President Obama would himself wield such a finding as a political bludgeon. He plans to issue an ultimatum to Congress: Either impose new taxes and limits on carbon that he finds amenable, or the EPA carbon police will be let loose to ravage the countryside.
The EPA hasn't made a secret of how it would like to centrally plan the U.S. economy under the 1970 Clean Air Act. In a blueprint released in July, the agency didn't exactly say it'd collectivize the farms -- but pretty close, down to the "grass clippings." The EPA would monitor and regulate the carbon emissions of "lawn and garden equipment" as well as everything with an engine, like cars, planes and boats. Eco-bureaucrats envision thousands of other emissions limits on all types of energy. Coal-fired power and other fossil fuels would be ruled out of existence, while all other prices would rise as the huge economic costs of the new regime were passed down the energy chain to consumers.
These costs would far exceed the burden of a straight carbon tax or cap-and-trade system enacted by Congress, because the Clean Air Act was never written to apply to carbon and other greenhouse gases. It's like trying to do brain surgery with a butter knife. Mr. Obama wants to move ahead anyway because he knows that the costs of any carbon program will be high. He knows, too, that Congress -- even with strongly Democratic majorities -- might still balk at supporting tax increases on their constituents, even if it is done in the name of global warming.
Climate-change politics don't break cleanly along partisan lines. The burden of a carbon clampdown will fall disproportionately on some states over others, especially the 25 interior states that get more than 50% of their electricity from coal. Rustbelt manufacturing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania will get hit hard too. Once President Bush leaves office, the coastal Democrats pushing hardest for a climate change program might find their colleagues splitting off, especially after they vote for a huge tax increase on incomes.
Thus Messrs. Obama and Grumet want to invoke a political deus ex machina driven by a faulty interpretation of the Clean Air Act to force Congress's hand. Mr. Obama and Democrats can then tell Americans that Congress must act to tax and regulate carbon to save the country from even worse bureaucratic consequences. It's Mr. Obama's version of Jack Benny's old "your money or your life" routine, but without the punch line.
The strategy is most notable for what it says about the climate-change lobby and its new standard bearer. Supposedly global warming is the transcendent challenge of the age, but Mr. Obama evidently doesn't believe he'll be able to convince his own party to do something about it without a bureaucratic ultimatum. Mr. Grumet justified it this way: "The U.S. has to move quickly domestically . . . We cannot have a meaningful impact in the international discussion until we develop a meaningful domestic consensus."
Normally a democracy reaches consensus through political debate and persuasion, but apparently for Mr. Obama that option is merely a nuisance. It's another example of "change" you'll be given no choice but to believe in.
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