Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Obama's choice: healthcare or climate

Healthcare reform is now Obama's top priority. The fight over a climate change bill may have to wait

David Roberts, Tuesday 16 June 2009 18.15 BST

Halfway through the second debate of last fall's presidential campaign, moderator Tom Brokaw asked the candidates what their top priority would be if elected. John McCain hemmed and hawed, but Barack Obama answered in plain language: Energy is "priority No. 1" and healthcare "priority No. 2".
Fast forward. In an New York Times Magazine piece last weekend on the legislative strategy driving Obama's presidency, senator Max Baucus recalls a flight on Air Force One in which Obama "just turned to me and said: 'This is my No. 1 issue.'" That issue? Healthcare.
What a difference a little time in office makes.
This Reuters story says that healthcare and climate are jockeying for legislative position, but in reality, the jockeying seems to be over: healthcare has won. The question now is, can a climate bill still pass when most of the attention and passion of the political left are focused elsewhere?
I spent a recent weekend chatting with a diverse range of energy-literate experts and insiders – congressional staff, think tankers, NGO reps, energy company execs – and this question came up repeatedly. While the discussions were off the record, I can report a broad conclusion: It's hard to say. Really hard. The situation is extraordinarily fluid, and as always in politics, it's likely that presently unforeseeable circumstances will make the difference.
I had people tell me with great confidence that there are 60 votes in the Senate for cloture on the climate bill (to overcome the threat of filibuster) and 51 for the bill itself. Others told me there are procedural tricks (strip stuff out and add it back in via conference committee) that can get the bill through the Senate in any case.
The larger faction, however, accepted what one called "the worst kept secret in DC": that there's "no way" the Senate is passing a climate bill this year. There just aren't 60 votes.
Republicans have settled on a strategy of blanket opposition to both the healthcare and climate legislation. This obviously isn't in the best interests of the country. It's not even obviously in the narrow self-interest of many Republicans. Nonetheless, a combination of increasing ideological rigidity, lack of new ideas and sheer cussed habit has taken the right completely out of these debates, except as rock-throwers and gear-grinders. They've decided that Democratic successes on either of these major initiatives could fuel further electoral losses, and that's their worst fear.
It didn't have to be this way, and many people I talked to evinced genuine surprise at how it's turned out. The climate bill strategy, for instance, got rolling in December, way back pre-Obama stimulus plan. It was designed around the assumption that in the wake of Obama's historic win and efforts to reach out across the aisle, a few Republicans could be peeled off.
That didn't work out. And it can't be overstated how much unified Republican opposition is shaping things. The debate is entirely between Democrats, entirely along regional lines and "moderate" Democrats (i.e. those hailing from carbon-intensive districts) have been accorded enormous power.
In the Senate, there are maybe two Republican "yes" votes – the last moderates standing, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine. That means to get cloture, Democrats can lose no more than two votes from their own caucus. Meanwhile, there are far more than two senators on the fence (at best) or likely nos (at worst): Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Evan Bayh (Indiana), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor (Arkansas) and several others.
Healthcare, on the other hand, is primed and ready. Democrats have been pushing for universal healthcare for, hell, over a half century now, and time after time it's gone down to defeat, most recently with the HillaryCare fiasco of 1993. At this point, however, the gathering crisis is undeniable, solid coalitions have been assembled and policy options are well-understood. Politically speaking, the issue is mature.
The same can't be said of climate. It was swept under the rug during George Bush's presidency, so it's only now, with viable legislation on the table, that the political world is grappling with it in earnest. One party still denies the problem. Coalitions are shifting, uncertain and poorly matched to traditional divisions. Policy options are complex and controversial. Grassroots support and messaging are nascent at best. There's a stunning level of ignorance about the issue in Congress (and among staffers, governors, etc), even on the left.
Partly as a consequence of its maturity – and partly due to its more personal, visceral, immediate character – healthcare generates a passion among Democrats that climate simply doesn't. That's true for politicians, thought leaders and grassroots types alike.
Congressional leaders get this. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is willing to give her members a hard deadline for passing a healthcare bill (end of July). On climate, however, she wants committee chairs to finish with the bill by 19 June but won't offer a deadline for passing the bill on the House floor. Senate Democrats are willing to push healthcare via the reconciliation process – which prevents the legislation from being filibustered in the Senate – but are unwilling to do the same with climate legislation. That means climate needs 60 votes, which makes it a much, much heavier lift.
Obama is the wildcard. Healthcare is the passion and central focus of the Obama administration (particularly budget director Peter Orszag). Whereas Obama's been fairly quiet on the development of the climate bill (aside from one behind-the-scenes meeting with members of the House energy and commerce committee, which from everything I hear actually made a huge difference), he's now decided to put his face and enormous popularity behind healthcare, with, the New York Times reports, "speeches, town-hall-style meetings and much deeper engagement with lawmakers."
Does he have the time, attention and political capital do the same for climate? That's the $64m question. Everyone I talked to agreed: Only Obama can make the difference in the Senate.
You can see it going two ways. If the fight over healthcare turns nasty and extends well into the fall, it could consume all the attention from Obama, legislators and the press. Lawmakers will be loathe to undertake another contentious battle at the same time. In particular, watch Max Baucus (Montana), chairman of the finance committee: He's not going to let focus be divided with a healthcare victory finally in reach under his watch.
Alternatively, it could be that Obama's public advocacy will juice public opinion and put the wind behind lawmakers' backs, as it did on the stimulus bill. Rahm Emanuel will do the necessary arm-twisting, and reconciliation will sail through. Emboldened by their success (and no longer feeling defensive and parochial), Democratic senators and Obama, riding an extraordinary historical wave, will use the momentum to take up climate. Moderate Dems will have the fear of God put into them by active, public pressure from Obama and will drop their usual "we can only accept this bill if it's 20% weaker" schtick. Wavering Dems, even those unwilling to vote for the bill, will grudgingly vote for cloture and open debate. And voilĂ .
Think of it this way: the two trains, healthcare and climate, are lined up at the station. The one's got to get through before the other can. But if the first gets through, it might just be a little easier to roll the second through before the station shuts down. That's about the best hope the poor little climate train has.

Obama targets US public with call for climate action

Climate impacts report warns of flooding, heat waves, drought and loss of wildlife that will occur if Americans fail to act on global warming

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Tuesday 16 June 2009 21.36 BST

The Obama administration unveiled the most authoritative report to date on the effects of global warming in America today in an effort to persuade the public of the need to act now to prevent the sweeping and life-altering consequences of global warming.
Americans have been living with the heavy downpours, rising sea levels, and blistering summer heat waves produced by man-made climate change for 30 years said the report, which was produced by more than 30 scientists working across 13 government agencies.
The effects of climate change will be even more severe by the end of the century.
"The projected rapid rate and large amount of climate change over this century will challenge the ability of society and natural systems to adapt," the report said.
Today's release of the study, titled Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, was overseen by a San Francisco-based media consulting company, and was part of a carefully crafted strategy by the White House to help build public support for a climate change bill that has run into opposition from some Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress.
The nearly 200-page study was scrubbed of the usual scientific jargon, and was given a high-profile release by Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, and the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Jane Lubchenco.
"I really believe this report is a game changer. I think that much of the foot-dragging in addressing climate change is a reflection of the perception that climate change is way down the road in the future and it affects only remote parts of the world," she told a press conference today. "This report says climate change is happening now. It is happening in our own back yard."
Average temperatures in the US have risen by1.5F (-17C) over the last 50 years, the report said. Rainfall in major storms has increased 20% over the last 100 years - with the heaviest downpours in the north-east. Sea levels have risen up to eight inches along some parts of the east coast.
The consequences of those changes are rippling through every region of the US between Alaska and Hawaii - from the disruption of salmon stocks and shift in butterfly migrations to rising incidence of asthma and now well-documented signs like increasingly deadly hurricanes and melting icecaps in the Arctic.
If today's generation fails to act to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming, climate models suggest temperatures could rise as much as 11F by the end of the century.
That translates into catastrophic consequences for human health and the economy such as more ferocious hurricanes in coastal regions - in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic, punishing droughts to the south-west, and increasingly severe winter storms in the north-east and around the Great Lakes.
The majority of North Carolina's beaches would be swallowed up by the sea. New England's long and snowy winters might be cut short to as little as two weeks. Summers in Chicago could be a time of repeated deadly heat waves. Los Angelenos and residents of other big cities will be choking because of deteriorating air quality.
Future generations could face potential food shortages because of declining wheat and corn yields in the breadbasket of the mid-west, increased outbreaks of food poisoning and the spread of epidemic diseases.
The physical infrastructure could also be threatened with storm surges and sea level rises engulfing 2,400 miles of road and other key infrastructure on the Gulf coast. Airports built on permafrost in Alaska will need to be relocated, the electrical grid will strain to meet the increased demand for air conditioning in summer, and ageing sewer systems will be brought to bursting point by heavy run-off in 770 American cities and towns. "The most important thing in this report is that the impacts of climate change are not something your children might theoretically see 50 years from now," said Tony Janetos, one of the study's authors and a director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland.
"The thing that concerns me the most is that we have a whole host of impacts that we now observe in the natural world that are occurring sooner and more rapidly and that appear to be larger than we might have expected 10 years ago. If anything we might have underestimated the rate and the impact of changes in the climate system." The study initially got under way when George Bush was president as part of a regular exercise mandated by Congress. It was finalised in late April, but Obama administration officials spent several weeks planning today's release, honing the language and graphics to make it accessible to non-scientists and to sharpen its core message: America must take action on climate change.
As part of the PR surrounding the release of the report, the administration approached the San Francisco consulting firm, Resource Media, which specialises in environmental campaigning, to produce a shorter and more digestible brochure of today's report for wider public distribution.
On the morning of 16 April, at a meeting in Washington, more than 30 NOAA scientists, climate change experts from a number of universities, environmental activists and media strategists discussed how to engage various communities with the findings of the report - town mayors, religious groups, even kindergarten pupils.
"The implied message here is that we can either pay in a more controlled way to bring about changes in our energy system which we can do in a way which will [have] benefits for jobs ... or we can do nothing now but we are still going to have to pay in the longer term and the damages are far less controllable," said Richard Moss, a former director of the US climate change science programme and vice-president for the World Wildlife Fund.
The release appeared timed to help Democratic leaders in Congress meet an ambitious target of passing a climate change bill through the House of Representatives by 26 June. The Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wants to hold a vote before the House breaks up for the 4 July Independence Day holiday.
But the bill has been opposed by some Democratic members of Congress, especially those from agricultural states who say that putting limits on greenhouse gas emissions will hurt farmers' economic interests.

European airports in carbon pledge

By Andrew Bounds
Published: June 17 2009 03:00

More than 30 European airports pledged yesterday to become carbon neutral in the industry's biggest commitment yet to fighting climate change.
Some 11 companies, which own 31 airports handling a quarter of Europe's air traffic, were the first to sign an industry-wide plan to eliminate or offset greenhouse gases from ground activities.
The European Union's emissions trading scheme will cover airlines from 2012, but airports, which account for 5 per cent of aviation emissions, are not included. Airports Council International Europe unveiled the scheme at its annual assembly in Manchester.
Andrew Bounds,Manchester Full story:
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Manhattan floods, Chicago heatwaves and withering Californian vines: how scientists see the US in 75 years

Hard-hitting report describes how America will be affected region by region if no action is taken on climate change

Suzanne Goldenberg, Tuesday 16 June 2009 10.47 BST

The Obama administration's long-awaited scientific report on the sweeping and life-altering consequences of a failure to act on global warming – Global climate change impacts in the United States – is released today.
It provides the most detailed picture to date of the impacts on the US in the worst case scenarios, when no action is taken to cut emissions. Examples include: floods in lower Manhattan; a quadrupling of heatwave deaths in Chicago; withering on the vineyards of California; the disappearance of wildflowers from the slopes of the Rockies; the extinction of Alaska's wild polar bears in the next 75 years.
What lies ahead by region
The winter snow season could be cut in half in southern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine — maybe as short as a week or two, under the higher emissions scenario. This would destroy winter traditions like skiing and skating and outdoor ponds. Native cranberries and blueberries would disappear; dairy herds, the biggest agricultural industry, would decline under the higher emissions scenario.
Summer temperatures in Florida could rise by 4.1C (10.5F), with the heat effect multipled by decreased rainfall under the higher emissions scenario. There would be increased hurricane intensity and rising sea levels leads to loss of wetlands and coastal areas. It would lead to a severe decline in quality of life.
Frequent, severe and longer lasting heatwaves in cities – as many as three a year in Chicago under the higher emissions scenario.
Water levels in the Great Lakes could fall by up to two feet by the end of the century under the higher emissions scenario.
Continued strong warming will threaten flow of Colorado river.
Has been warming at twice the rate of the rest of the US over last 50 years.
Temperatures could rise up to a further 5.4C (13F) under the higher emissions scenario. The region should be prepared for drought and increased risk of wildfire.
Declining snowpack is already threatening agriculture. Many salmon species are already threatened
Human health: Rise in deaths due to heatwaves, decline in health because of poor air quality and increase in water borne and insect borne diseases.
Agriculture: Although some crops will benefit from the longer growing season, heavy downpours could wreak havoc on others. Farmers will be forced to use more pesticides and weed killers against invasive plants. Poison ivy will bcome more abundant and more toxic. Higher emissions scenario would cause a 10% decline in dairy herd in Appalachia.
Energy: Rising heat index will increase demand on electricity for air conditioning. But water shortages could restrict electricity generation.
Oil infrastructure, along coast of Louisiana and Florida, is also vulnerable to rising sea levels and intensifying hurricanes.
Transport: Storm surges and rising sea levels could block the use of ports and coastal airports, roads and rail lines. Six of the top 10 freight gateways are threatened by rising sea levels. Entire road networks on the Gulf Coast could be at risk.
Ecosystems: Large-scale shifts in species likely to continue. Deserts will become hotter and drier, oceans more acidic. Salmon and trout populations will contract.

Miliband must end coal emissions

The Guardian, Wednesday 17 June 2009

The new consultation on the role of coal in Britain's energy supply, published today by the secretary of state for climate change and energy, Ed Miliband, is critically important for the future of this country and the wider world. In April this year, he declared that "the era of new unabated coal is over". Given the scale and the urgency of the fight against climate change, this was welcome news, but a policy framework to deliver this outcome has not yet been announced.
In the run up to critical climate change talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year, the government now has the opportunity to provide international leadership. This leadership must begin at home. Coal burning is one of the main causes of climate pollution around the world. The credibility of our climate policies depends on ruling out emissions from new coal power stations.
The UK needs a new energy system, founded on energy efficiency and renewable power, to provide the engine for a world-leading, low-carbon economy. A policy which completely rules out emissions from new coal and sets a deadline for all existing fossil fuel stations to meet similar standards is essential both for climate security and business certainty.
Transforming our energy system will create jobs, reduce our dependence on imported fuels and drastically cut our CO2 emissions. It will also help protect the lives of millions of people, including many of the world's poorest, from the impacts of climate change; and prevent the irrevocable loss of millions of species of wildlife. In a time of trouble and uncertainty, we trust that we can grasp this unique chance to build a stable, prosperous and equitable future.Daleep Mukarji Director, Christian AidAndy Atkins Executive director, Friends of the Earth John Sauven Executive director, Greenpeace Barbara Stocking Director, Oxfam Graham Wynne Chief executive, RSPB Deborah Doane Director, World Development MovementDavid Nussbaum Chief executive, Officer, WWF UK
• Shell's "humanitarian" gesture in settling out of court is entirely self-serving (It is time to move on, 11 June). Of course the company wants to "move on", but unfortunately this isn't an option for the people of the Niger Delta, a majority of whom depend on the natural environment for their livelihoods. Oil-related pollution, including spills and waste dumping, has caused serious environmental damage to soil, water and air, with far-reaching implications for health and standards of living.
All of this could have been avoided had the oil companies been held properly accountable for decades of adverse impacts on human rights. Corporate charity is not the solution. Kate Allen Director, Amnesty International UK

Black clouds turn Beijing day into night

Ferocious storm strikes Chinese capital as seven killed by lightning in north-east

Jonathan Watts in Beijing, Tuesday 16 June 2009 16.58 BST

At midday in Beijing today the sky turned black as midnight, as one of the most spectacular storms in recent memory struck the Chinese capital.
Thunder clouds blocked the sun from 11am, forcing the authorities to turn on streetlamps, offices to blaze with fluorescent lights and cars to drive with their headlights on.
During the darkest period, around 11.20am, office cooler, classroom, Twitter and Facebook gossip turned apocalyptic with many half-jokingly prophesying the end of the world and new weather weapons, while others wondered publicly about a secret solar eclipse or the death of the sun.
The storm passed within an hour with little apparent damage. But for a small handful, the portents of doom came true. Local media reported seven people were fatally struck by lightning as the storms swept across north-east China.
Weather forecasters said it was extremely rare for such ferocious weather to hit the country at this time of year.
Speculation inevitably centred on the government's weather modification programme, which has been ramped up in recent years to offset droughts by seeding clouds. But Guardian efforts to contact the meteorological bureau have as yet been unanswered.

Dodge, BMW and Volkswagen Golf named as least green machines

Ranked on carbon emissions and noise, the cars were deemed three of the ten most environmentally harmful cars by the ETA

Adam Vaughan, Tuesday 16 June 2009 17.48 BST

A Dodge sports car, BMW family car and Volkswagen Golf were among the vehicles today named and shamed as the least green cars of the year, according to the Environmental Transport Association.
Ranked on criteria including carbon emissions and noise, the cars were deemed three of the ten most environmentally harmful cars by the ETA, a lobbying charity and breakdown cover-provider with 20,000 members.
The worst offender in the ETA list, the 8-litre Dodge SRT-10 supercar, was found to produce as much CO2 in a typical year's driving as an acre of mature oak forest would absorb in the same period. A Volkswagen Golf (3.2 V6 250 PS R32 4MOTION) was rated as the worst small family car partly because of its high greenhouse gas emissions, and the BMW M3 was considered by the ETA as the worst large family car.
"The big problem is not the Dodge SRT-10s and Lamborghinis because there are not many of them on the road," explains Andrew Davis, director of the ETA. "The concern is that people are continuing to buy cars that are much too big for their real needs." Two weeks ago Lamborghini pledged to cut 35% of CO2 from its cars by 2015.
The ETA's 2009 Green Car Awards also examined more than 1,300 cars to select what it saw as the ten greenest vehicles. The new Honda Insight hybrid won the greenest car of the year award, while Toyota picked up two awards – one for its city car the iQ and one for its supermini, the Yaris. Diesel engines featured heavily in the greenest top 10, and the ETA said that its concerns over the health impact of pollution from diesel tailpipes had been allayed by the development of new particulate filters.
The charity's methodology looked at fuel efficiency, local air pollution including particulates and nitrous oxides, and noise levels when the cars were running.
Last week, What Car? magazine revealed its own green car awards, which looked at both the environmental credentials and the driving experiences of the cars. It featured several different models to ETA's list, including the magazine's greenest car of the year, a diesel Volvo S40. A further publication, the What Green Car website, is planning to announce its own awards of environmentally friendly cars later this month, and has published a shortlist that includes the Honda Insight.

The ultimate green car – but where do you fill it up?

The hydrogen-run vehicle unveiled yesterday promises a pollution-free future. But there is a bumpy road ahead
By Michael McCarthy
Wednesday, 17 June 2009

It's silent, it's pollution free, it's nippy, and it'll get you round town for £2,500 a year, fuel and maintenance included. So, is it the car of the future? Maybe.
The developers of the hydrogen-powered Riversimple Urban Car certainly think it is, and when this new British contribution to green motoring was unveiled in London yesterday they did not spare the superlatives. The lightweight two-seater, which has a hydrogen fuel cell powering four electric motors, will cut travelling costs and do more to save the planet, they said, than any other car on the road.
That's if it gets there. What was unveiled yesterday on the terrace of Somerset House overlooking the Thames was a demonstration model and before the Riversimple can come off the production line and take its place in the traffic, many obstacles have to be crossed.
The biggest one is the hydrogen, which goes into the fuel cell in liquid form, at a very low temperature. There is no hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in Britain, or anywhere else for that matter, and at present no-one is proposing to build one, especially seeing the billions of pounds it would cost.
The answer to this from the engineer behind the Riversimple, Hugo Spowers, is to keep it local. Mr Spowers wants to go into partnership with a British city – he has Oxford in mind, among others – in which 50 vehicles would be based and leased to customers. As the car is intended to be a city runabout, rather than for long journeys, there would only need to be a single refuelling point in each urban centre, he says. If more cities took up the idea, Mr Spowers predicts a national hydrogen refuelling network could come into existence of its own accord.
But before he can get to that stage he has to raise another £20m of investment, of which "a proportion", he said yesterday, had been secured. The Riversimple publicity made much of the backing of Sebastian Piech, a member of the Piech motoring dynasty involved in running Porsche and Volkswagen, but Mr Spowers made it clear that Mr Piech was investing privately and not on behalf of any major German car company.
The advantages of the Riversimple, assuming it lives up to everything claimed by the makers, are considerable. It can reach a top speed of 50mph, which is comparable to that of the electric G-Wiz, but with a carbon fibre body and a much lighter fuel cell than in other hydrogen vehicles it is claimed to have a range on one fuel charge of 240 miles – five times the distance the G-Wiz can travel before recharging.
Above all, with a hydrogen fuel cell no carbon dioxide is emitted from the exhaust to add to the greenhouse gases causing global warming, which would be a principal reason for many people to buy the car. But Mr Spowers did admit that the emissions were in fact 30grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled, reflecting the amount of CO2 released in the industrial process needed to make the hydrogen. But even this, he said, was "a quarter of the lowest emissions of any car in the market today", and there was a prospect of "green" hydrogen in the future, made with renewable energy, when the CO2 would shrink even lower.

Hydrogen-powered car makes debut

By Peter Woodman, Press Association
Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A new hydrogen-powered RiverSimple urban car is pictured outside Somerset House in central London on 16 June 2009. A new lightweight hydrogen-powered car, capable of speeds up to 50mph, was launched in London on Tuesday. Able to travel 240 miles without refuelling, and weighing just 772lb (350kg), the two-seater Riversimple Urban Car could be put into production as soon as 2013
Able to travel 240 miles without refuelling, and weighing just 772lb (350kg), the two-seater Riversimple Urban Car could be put into production as soon as 2013.

Before that the project leaders plan to raise funds to build 10 prototypes and try out vehicles in UK cities.
Supported by the great-grandson of car pioneer Ferdinand Porsche, the Riversimple car does the petrol equivalent of 300 miles to the gallon.
The design of the car will be placed online so that production versions can be developed to suit local requirements in urban areas.
The cars will be leased to users rather than sold, with owners getting a maintenance, support and fuel package. The vehicles are expected to have a life span of around 20 years.
The car has four electric motors attached to each wheel and these double as brakes and generate electricity which is stored in a bank of ultracapacitors.
The car is powered by a fuel cell of just six kilowatts compared with the 100kW in some hydrogen prototypes.
The car has been developed over the last three years in a co-operative research programme involving the River Simple development team founded by engineer Hugo Spowers and Oxford University, Cranfield University in Bedfordshire and Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies.
The research has been financed through initial support from industrial gas company BOC, Government grants and the private support of the Piech family including Sebastian Piech, a great-grandson of Ferdinand Porsche.
Mr Piech said: "The Riversimple Urban Car represents a major step towards practical 21st century personal transport and towards the fulfilment of my great-grandfather's ambitions for accessible personal transport, but this time combining his other passions: light weight and high efficiency.
"Now that we have the basic vehicle in place with practical technology the challenge is to begin the development of a fuelling infrastructure to accompany it, to encourage the adoption of the sale of mobility service and encourage broad participation in the open source design to make the already practical technology into a broadly adaptable customer proposition."

Legislators Framing Climate Bills Hold Energy Stock


As Congress moves ahead with climate-change legislation touching almost every corner of the energy industry, a number of lawmakers shaping the debate have investments in companies that would be affected by the results.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.), one of the lead authors of a House bill that would favor alternative-energy sources, had investments of between $51,000 and $115,000 in the Firsthand Technology Value Fund at the end of last year. Three of the top 10 holdings in the Ohio fund are solar-energy manufacturers.

Republican Rep. Joe Barton was paid by Carrizo Oil and Gas Inc for oil exploration on his property.
Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was paid between $2,500 and $5,000 by Carrizo Oil and Gas Inc. for oil exploration on his property in 2008. In April 2008, Mr. Barton also sold shares in Reliant Energy Inc., a Houston power-plant operator, and bought stock in EOG Resources Inc., which calls itself one of the largest independent oil and gas companies in the U.S. Mr. Barton is a strong advocate for the oil industry, and has opposed the limits on emissions of so-called greenhouse gases that Mr. Markey has advocated.
Jeff Duncan, a spokesman for Mr. Markey, said the congressman has a diverse portfolio of mutual funds and doesn't exercise any individual discretion over fund investments. A spokesman for Mr. Barton declined to comment.
According to congressional financial-disclosure forms released last week, more than a quarter of the 48 members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee spearheading climate-change legislation had investments in energy, oil and natural-gas companies at the end of 2008, the most recent information disclosed. (See related article.)
It is legal for lawmakers to own shares in companies affected by their legislation. House and Senate ethics laws allow members of Congress to hold a financial interest in a company unless a law they pass would benefit only themselves.
Bloomberg News
Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman had at least $22,000 invested with energy companies.
Top members of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is handling the legislation in that chamber, also held stakes. Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) had at least $22,000 invested in energy companies. As of Dec. 31, Mr. Bingaman, under his wife's name, held between $15,000 and $50,000 in Energy Future Holdings Corp., a Dallas energy holding fund with former Secretary of State James A. Baker III on its board. In 2008, the senator bought and sold between $2,000 and $30,000 in coal holding company Arch Coal Inc. and in Tulsa, Okla., energy company Helmrich & Payne Inc.
Mr. Bingaman's office declined to comment.
The lawmakers' financial-disclosure forms don't provide precise values of their stakes, only ranges for the value of the investments.
Some House and Senate leaders also held stakes in the energy sector. In 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif), in her husband's name, owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a Seal Beach, Calif., natural-gas company. Ms. Pelosi sold her stake in Quest Energy Partners Ltd., an Oklahoma City natural-gas properties holding company, on Dec. 31.
Bloomberg News
Republican Sen. Richard Burr owns shares in Chesapeake Energy Inc
Republican House Whip Eric Cantor (R., Va.) sold between $1,001 and $15,000 in Ecology & Environment Inc., a sustainability company, in February 2008, and the same amount of Energy Conversion Devices Inc., a solar-energy parts maker, in May 2008.
In August 2008, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) sold part of his $15,000 to $50,000 investment in the Dow Jones U.S. Energy Index Fund, which holds shares in Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Occidental Petroleum Corp.
A spokesman for Ms. Pelosi didn't return several calls seeking comment.
A spokesman for Mr. Cantor declined to comment. Mr. Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, referred to a letter attached to Mr. Reid's disclosure forms from the Wells Fargo Wealth Management Group saying that the investment adviser managed the senator's investments "without input" from Mr. Reid.
Democrats are promoting policies boosting reliance on natural gas to help curb oil imports. Energy committee members Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.), Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.) all had shares in Chesapeake Energy Inc., an Oklahoma City company that says it is the largest independent producer of natural gas and the most active driller of new wells in the nation. Mr. Weiner also holds shares in Teco Energy Inc., a Tampa, Fla., energy utility holding company.
Associated Press
Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey is among lawmakers with energy investments.
A spokesman for Mr. Weiner said the investment presents no conflicts for his boss. "Anthony is a middle-class person with a few thousand dollars in these stocks, and it is clear from his strong environmental record that it doesn't affect his votes," spokesman John Collins said.
Spokesmen for Messrs. Burr and Upton declined to comment.
California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, an Energy panel member, owns between $1,000 and $15,000 in Wilder Hill Clean Energy Fund, which holds shares in the solar-energy company Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. and Cosan Ltd., a large alcohol and ethanol producer.
Ms. Capps, a four-term House member, has been an opponent of new oil and gas drilling off U.S. coasts and a supporter of new solar-energy initiatives. Rather than seeing the purchases as a conflict of interest, Ms. Capps made a choice to rearrange her portfolio to "reflect her personal values and belief," said spokeswoman Kirstin Walker.
Write to Jake Sherman at

Opposition groups join up to fight turbine development

Published Date: 17 June 2009
By Jenny Haworth

AN ALLIANCE of more than 30 action groups opposed to wind farm development in the British countryside was launched yesterday.
The new organisation, the National Alliance of Wind Farm Action Groups (Nawag) aims to bring together community groups from England, Scotland and Wales that oppose the developments.There are about 200 local campaign groups across the UK, and Nawag hopes they will all eventually join the new alliance.Jon McLeod, chairman of the group, said the aim was to create a powerful voice for communities "in the face of the highly resourced pro-wind lobby".Members of the alliance include groups from Angus, Caithness and West Stirlingshire.Nawag will lobby politicians, and offer advice to local groups trying to fight wind farms.It will argue that there should be an exclusion zone that bans turbines being built closer than 2km to homes.Mr McLeod, who is already involved in a campaign against a wind farm in Derbyshire, said: "For too long, the 'greenwash' of the wind industry has gone unchallenged, and that stops today. "As anyone who has come up against the pro-wind lobby will tell you, behind wind power's 'cuddly' image lies a cynical and harsh reality."Communities up and down the country are simply not prepared to stand by and let our landscape be disfigured by wind turbines that will do little or nothing to stop climate change, less still secure our energy supply."Mr McLeod added that "every landscape" was at risk from "a wind lobby high on public subsidy and hungry for profits".

Wind farms could cover same area as National Park

Published Date: 17 June 2009
By Jenny Haworth
Environment correspondent

AN AREA of Scotland the size of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park will be covered in turbines if all wind farms in the pipeline are given the go ahead, figures seen by The Scotsman reveal.
A report drawn up by Scottish Natural Heritage shows 194,459 hectares of land in Scotland could be covered by wind farms.This includes the space taken up by wind farms that have already been built, those that have planning permission, and those that are still going through the consents process.Proponents of wind farms argue they are essential to meet challenging climate change targets. However, the figures have raised concern among campaign groups worried about the amount of wild land being covered by turbines.The document reveals that a fifth of the land on which turbines would be built – 41,886 hectares – would be heather moorland. In addition, 1,639 hectares would be mountain land, and 10,421 hectares would be rough grassland.A spokesman for the John Muir Trust, which campaigns to protect Scotland's wild land, said the extent of development was of concern because wind farms currently only contribute 2.2 per cent of the UK's electricity.Helen McDade, head of policy at the John Muir Trust, said: "Research suggests that current UK policy could require a twenty-fold increase in industrial wind developments in Scotland. "More and more, this will mean generating electricity far from the point of use, in scenic and ecologically valuable areas such as Shetland and the Western Isles, with the knock-on effect to tourism."Ms McDade called for more government funding to be directed towards energy conservation, instead of "inefficient generation"."Every watt of energy generated by wind power is seven times as expensive as an equivalent saving through loft insulation," she said.And she called for large-scale onshore wind farms to be built only on brownfield sites, near large centres of population.Ms McDade added that she was worried about the lack of a clear government strategy for the development of onshore wind farms.In contrast, a strategic environment assessment is being carried out by the Scottish Government before any offshore wind farms can be built.Figures from the British Wind Energy Association show there are 69 wind farms in Scotland, another 17 under construction, 53 with planning permission, and 100 seeking consent.Further applications are also expected in the future. Last week ScottishPower Renewables emphasised its intention to consider applying for consent for more onshore wind farms in Scotland.The figures in the SNH Wind Farm Footprint document, produced for Scotland's Moorland Forum, a partnership of 31 organisations concerned with the future of the Scottish uplands, included the entire footprint of the wind farms.This is the area over which land management is influenced by the wind farm, and is larger than the area of direct habitat loss due to the turbines.A Scottish Government spokesman highlighted that not all applications would be granted consent. On average, about a third of wind farm applications are turned down, meaning the total land area covered could end up being lower than suggested in the report.The spokesman said: "Scotland has a vast natural energy potential to create a sustainable, low-carbon economic future. We have always said we cannot have onshore wind anywhere or at any price, and that means utilising some of the best natural resources in Europe for energy from wave, water and wind."

Japan plans underwater sponges to soak up uranium

Japan is drawing up innovative plans to extract uranium from seawater in an attempt to end the country's reliance on imports for nuclear power stations.

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo Published: 1:40PM BST 16 Jun 2009

Government-funded scientists have proposed placing huge "uranium farms" on the seabed, consisting of anchored sponges which soak up the element.
Dr Masao Tanada, of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, has developed a fabric made primarily of irradiated polyethylene that is able to soak up the minute amounts of uranium – around 3.3 parts per billion – in the seawater.

The world's oceans contain an estimated 4.5 billion tons of uranium, around 1,000 times the amount that is known to exist in uranium mines.
Dr Tanada claims Japan's nuclear power industry could harvest the 8,000 tons it needs each year a year from the Kuroshio Current that flows along Japan's eastern seaboard.
"At the moment, Japan has to rely on imports of uranium from Canada and Australia, but this technology could be commercially deployed in as little as five years," he said.
Uranium supplies from conventional mining operations are expected to last for another 100 years, although further deposits are still to be discovered. Extraction, however, is expensive and damaging to the environment.
Dr Tanada hopes to secure funding to construct an underwater uranium farm covering nearly 400 square miles that would meet one-sixth of Japan's annual uranium requirements.
"Other countries are conducting similar research but none are as advanced as we are," he said. "We need to conduct more development research and be able to produce the adsorbent material on a large scale, but we could achieve this within five years."

German blue chip firms throw weight behind north African solar project

Siemens, Deutsche Bank, RWE and E.on ready to invest in ambitious plan to power Europe with clean electricity from Africa

Kate Connolly in Berlin, Tuesday 16 June 2009 18.16 BST

Twenty blue chip German companies are pooling their resources with the aim of harnessing solar power in the deserts of north Africa and transporting the clean electricity to Europe.
The businesses, which include some of the biggest names in European energy, finance and manufacturing, will form a consortium next month. If successful, the highly ambitious plan could see Europe fuelled by solar energy within a decade.
The consortium behind what would be the biggest ever solar energy initiative will first raise awareness and interest among other investors for the project, known as Desertec, which is estimated to cost around €400bn (£338bn).
Torsten Jeworrek, board member of Munich Re, the German reinsurer which is leading the project, said: "We want to found an initiative which over the next two to three years will put concrete measures on the table."
Like other reinsurers, Munich Re has said it is expecting to face mounting claims in the coming years for damage caused by climate change.
The companies – including Siemens, Deutsche Bank, and the energy companies RWE and E.on – will meet on July 13 in Munich to draw up an agreement. German government ministries as well as the Club of Rome, a Zurich-based NGO of leading scientists, managers and politicians which advocates sustainable development, are also expected to be present.
It is seen as particularly significant that the companies aim to start the expensive initiative in the midst of a financial crisis. But although none of the companies is keen to go into detail yet about their involvement, they stress that the project is a chance for them to drive forward the fight against climate change and in doing so to position themselves at the top of the green technology industry. Germany, despite its relative lack of sun, has become a leader in solar energy.
The energy potential in the deserts south of the Mediterranean is enormous.
According to the European Commission's Institute for Energy, if just 0.3% of the light falling on the Sahara and Middle Eastern deserts was captured, it could provide all of Europe's energy needs.
The Desertec project aims to build solar power plants in several locations in north Africa. Jeworrek said the "most important criteria" was that the locations were "situated in politically stable lands". Morocco, as well as Libya and Algeria have been cited as potential sites, where land is also cheap.
The technique called "concentrating solar power" or CSP, uses banks of mirrors to focus the sun's rays in a central column filled with water. The rays heat the water, vaporising the it into a steam which is then used to drive turbines which generate carbon-free electricity.
The energy would then be fed via high-voltage direct current (DC) transmission lines over thousands of miles to Europe - traditional AC lines are far too inefficient.
Hans Muller-Steinhagen of Germany's Aerospace Centre, said it was technically possible, albeit expensive, to transport the energy over thousands of miles. He said solar energy from the desert is already being harvested but only in isolated plants. CSP plants are operational in the American west, including in California and Nevada, while independent plants are currently being set up in Spain, Morocco, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates. But the projects have suffered from investors' nervousness due of the vast expense of the required grid infrastructure, as well as the cheapness of fossil fuels.
German representatives of environmental groups yesterday widely welcomed the news that big businesses were prepared to give the project a backbone for the first time.
"Businesses have finally recognised that renewable energies belong to the future, and in times of economic crisis this also sends out an important signal for economic growth," said Andree Bohling of Greenpeace.
WWF Germany's climate expert Regine Gunther said while the initiative was a "step in the right direction", it was important to ensure that Africa benefited from the project. "They want to and indeed must profit from this solution as much as us," she said. Previous suggestions have included allowing host countries to retain a proportion of the electricity for free, in return for providing sites for the solar farms.
The €400bn investment would be enough to cover 15% of Europe's electricity requirements, according to Jeworrek. He added "in technical terms this project can be realised" but stressed in order for it to be sustainable it would have to finance itself in the long-run and be competitive within 10 to 15 years.
But German MP Hermann Scheer, president of Eurosolar, the European Association for Renewable Energy, called the Desertec project "highly problematic".
He said costs would be vastly higher and deadlines would be missed due to logistical problems such as sand storms and dealing with many different countries. "I would urge the investors to stay clear of it," he told The Guardian.
Scheer was also critical of the fact that the project would "duplicate the current system" whereby energy distribution is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies. "We should be looking instead at decentralising the system, and looking closer to home for our energy supplies, such as solar panels on homes or harnessing wind energy on the coasts, or inland," he said.

Why Europe finds the sun so attractive, Tuesday 16 June 2009 18.21 BST

It takes just six hours for the sun to shine down on deserts the same amount of energy all humanity uses in a year.
So the idea of using solar power to solve the world's energy and global warming problems has long been attractive.
It was the German Aerospace Agency that first ran the numbers on whether harvesting north Africa's deserts to supply Europe could be made to work.
The answer was yes, at a price. Much of the €400bn (£337bn) would be spent on the grid infrastructure needed to carry vast amounts of electricity northwards, though proponents note such investment is needed anyway.
The desert solar dream took one step towards reality last year when the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, cited it a key part of the newly formed Mediterranean Union and ordered a feasibility study. The prime minister, Gordon Brown, also voiced support.
The idea has also been picked up by the European commission's Institute of Energy, who envision it as part of a Europe-wide renewables supergrid.
This would tap solar, geothermal, wind and wave power from across the continent, meaning electricity would always be available, not just when the weather was favourable.
The desert solar concept is also being explored in other parts of the world, particularly in the US.
Damian Carrington

Brass from muck hastens drive for lucrative waste deals

By David Fickling
Published: June 17 2009 03:00

The UK's waste industry has seen a frenzy of activity in recent months, as companies compete to outbid each other for billions of pounds' worth of lucrative council waste management agreements. In the past two months alone, about £2bn of contracts have been signed.
The value of these contracts depends crucially on the regulatory environment. So industry executives were relieved to hear this month that an incoming Conservative government would guarantee landfill taxes at nearly double current levels until 2020.
This commitment by Nick Herbert, shadow environment secretary, goes further than the Labour government. Alistair Darling, chancellor, announced in April's budget that the landfill tax escalator would raise rates from their current level of £40 a tonne to £72 a tonne by 2013.
"While landfill is the easy or cheap option, alternative solutions will not develop. So we have to make land-fill less attractive," Mr Herbert said.
Analysts argue that the UK's historically low levels of landfill taxes explain its low rates of recycling compared with its European peers. But that is now changing, says Nick Spoliar, a support services analyst at Altium.
Under the EU landfill directive, the UK's level of biodegradable waste sent to landfill must fall from 75 per cent of 1995 levels now to 35 per cent by 2020.
"In a year or two's time we'll generally have a situation where it doesn't make financial sense to landfill where you can recycle," said Mr Spoliar.
A further spur to re-cycling, which would underpin the value of the waste management contracts, is the issue of capacity. According to 2007 estimates by the Environment Agency, London will run out of landfill space by the end of next year, while the south-east, north-west and east of England will reach capacity by the end of 2012.
A total of 1,700 new waste facilities are needed in the UK over the next few years, according to MBD, a market research company.
The knowledge that the straightforward option of sending rubbish to a landfill site would become more expensive has prompted a wave of outsourcing deals, as councils have sought to offload the task of dealing with waste in more complex ways. In April, Manchester agreed a £640m, 25-year waste management contract with Viridor and public finance initiative specialist John Laing. Last month, Veolia signed the £640m contract to manage Merseyside's waste. Most recently, Shanks agreed a £720m contract with Cumbria.
Those agreements came in spite of fears that the credit crunch would subdue private investor interest in PFI contracts. More are on the way. Just under £2.9bn of further waste contracts are currently accepting initial tenders, according to Glenigan, a contract consultant, while nearly £5bn are being prepared for public tender.
The benign environment for the waste management sector and the prospect of stable revenues could trigger a further round of merger and acquisition activity. The difficulties of entering the industry from scratch make buying an existing company the easiest way in.
The same qualities of guaranteed income and limited competition led to an earlier wave of M&A activity that saw most independent listed waste companies in the UK snapped up by larger rivals or private equity consortia.
Of the UK's leading waste managers, Veolia, Sita and Waste Recycling Group are divisions of French and Spanish parents Veolia Environnement, GDF Suez and FCC. Cory and Biffa were sold to private equity consortia in 2007 and 2008.
Only Shanks and a few smaller specialist waste disposal companies, such as hazardous waste expert Augean, remain on the London Stock Exchange, alongside Pennon, Viridor's parent company.
But large established waste managers cannot assume they will have unchallenged dominance. Non-waste companies, such as VT, the defence and support services group, are making efforts to break into the industry.
This could be to the benefit of the few remaining independent groups. As Mr Spoliar points out: "There are some pretty high entry barriers. It's much easier to buy an incumbent company - which is ultimately what the VTs will end up doing."
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Governments in costly quest for electricity's holy grail

By Paul Betts
Published: June 17 2009 03:00

In the decades of economic reconstruction following the second world war, governments launched massive reindustrialisation projects in economically distressed regions that were later ironically dubbed building cathedrals in the desert. These big industrial complexes - whether petrochemical plants, steel factories or shipyards - were rarely integrated into the local economies and have since endured repeated and painful restructurings.
At the same time, governments invested heavily in groundbreaking technological projects, some of which have befallen the same fate. This was the case of France's so-called "Plan Calcul" to create a comprehensive domestic information technology industry to secure the country's strategic independence in this key sector.
The French high-speed TGV trains have been another breakthrough, as has the development of a new generation of EPR nuclear reactors. These projects would never have got off the ground without substantial government financial backing and all have ended up costing far more than originally envisaged.
Now the cathedral builders are grappling with the problems of their latest grand project. After years of haggling, the European Union, together with the US, Russia and Japan, agreed four years ago to build in southern France a huge research and engineering project called ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor).
China, South Korea and India have also joined the project to create an experimental nuclear fusion reactor to replicate the energy of the sun.
If successful, this would create an environmentally friendly and inexhaustible source of electricity with virtually zero nuclear waste. In other words, this would be the energy equivalent of the holy grail. Construction on the vast experimental plant in Provence has started and the original budget has been exceeded.
The partner governments are due to meet in Japan today and the discussion promises to be lively. The project's construction costs have already doubled from the original €5bn ($7bn) to about €10bn. It will take about 10 years to complete the construction phase, so the final costs risk being even higher. The facility is then expected to operate for 20 years at a cost of another €5bn. This figure too risks being much higher.
Europe will carry 45 per cent of these costs, while the other partner countries will have to bear just under 10 per cent each. No one is keen to commit to the project's fast-rising funding needs, let alone honour their existing agreements. All the more so given the body of opinion that is opposed to the entire project, which argues that these funds could be spent far more effectively to develop other renewable energy sources such as wind, tidal or solar power.
Until ITER is tried and tested no one will know whether nuclear fusion reactors could become a viable and compellingly attractive economic alternative to existing power-generating systems. It may not work, but if it does the €20bn or more it will have cost will seem like loose change.
Nuclear bond
On the other hand, ordinary investors are grappling with questions of their own about investing in the nuclear sector.
EDF, the French electricity behemoth and operator of the country's 58 nuclear reactors, today launches its first bond for retail investors in about two decades. The apparent return to favour of nuclear power is likely to fuel great interest in the €1bn issue, as will the fact that few investments are safer than this high-yielding bond from a utility guaranteed by the government.
Yet for equity investors there is no concrete evidence that the longer-term financial model for nuclear power is as solid as its promoters suggest. The skyrocketing costs of building new-generation plants, while maintaining the ageing facilities that exist, are all putting pressure on the balance sheets of nuclear operators.
An academic report commissioned by Greenpeace analyses the risks of investing in France's two nuclear champions, Areva, the nuclear engineering group, and EDF. It highlights how deeply the fate of one affects the other.
So far both have benefited from generous state support. But competition is entering the French market, and electricity prices are on hold, making life more difficult for EDF in particular. This is an industry where massive investment has to be committed upfront before generating a guaranteed income stream 10-15 years down the line. And the report concludes that what is bad for EDF cannot be good for Areva.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009