Friday, 26 June 2009

Hello to Carbon Trading (but With Smog?)

Carbon trading may get a long-awaited lift Friday, but perhaps with strings attached.
The House is expected to vote on a sweeping climate-change package being championed by President Obama: the American Clean Energy and Security Act.
On Wall Street, passage could breathe life into a market, carbon-emissions trading, that has failed to take off in a big way. The idea of carbon trading is to limit the amount of carbon that companies can emit and allow them to buy and sell carbon credits if they exceed or don't meet the caps. In recent years, banks, insurers and commodity brokerages set up carbon-emission trading desks in anticipation of a robust U.S. market.

But trading didn't gain momentum because the government didn't pass regulation setting national caps. Meanwhile, where there was regulation and markets, in Europe, carbon prices tumbled amid the global financial crisis. Global carbon markets contracted 16% to $28 billion for the first quarter.
U.S. legislation creating a cap-and-trade system would "be a big step" toward greater investment and a full-fledged market, said Anthony D'Agostino, director of the emissions markets at Royal Bank of Canada.
Still, traders aren't universally thrilled with some parts of the bill. One provision would require all carbon derivatives to executed on or through an exchange, an approach that would essentially restrict over-the-counter activity, or deals between private parties.
Banks maintain an exchange approach will increase costs for emitters and reduce product flexibility. Currently, most carbon products are tailored and traded off-exchange.
More broadly, some are worried that the restriction will be applied to other products such as commodities and credit derivatives. "I think it's an overreaction to the AIG mess," said Rep. Michael McMahon (D., N.Y.), a member of the New Democratic Coalition, in an interview. "When a car accident happens, we don't ban automobiles."
The coalition is trying to "knock [the provision] out or change it by amendment," said Rep. McMahon on Thursday afternoon. One possible approach would be an amendment allowing the provision to be superseded by subsequent financial-reform efforts, say people on Capitol Hill.

Europe moves to reduce pollutants

By Joshua Chaffin in Luxembourg
Published: June 26 2009 03:38

Environment ministers agreed on Thursday on a sweeping plan to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide, dust and other pollutants spewed out by thousands of industrial facilities across Europe.
The legislation would reduce emissions of such pollutants by nearly a third by 2020, according to the European Commission. The measures would save up to €27bn ($38bn, £23bn) in annual health costs and spare thousands of lives by improving the quality of soil, air and water.

European Union member states will negotiate with the European parliament before the proposals can become law.
The plan does not cover carbon dioxide emissions, which are the subject of separate negotiations.
“If you compare 10 years ago with the 10 years ahead of us, we will have a completely different situation,” said Andreas Calgren, environment minister of Sweden, an early proponent of such measures.
Ministers approved the package by a narrow majority after a year of discussions that exposed sharp divisions between the likes of Sweden, Denmark and Germany, which have stringent pollution targets, and the UK and Poland, which pleaded for greater flexibility to accommodate ageing coal-fired power plants.
The legislation tightens emissions limits for certain industrial sectors and sets new inspection standards. At its heart is a requirement that operators of power generators, refineries and other big combustion plants bring facilities up to the best available techniques by the end of 2020. New plants will have to achieve that from 2012.
The UK succeeded in pushing back the deadline for full compliance to 2020 – four years later than originally proposed. But the delay could become an issue with the parliament.
● The European Commission on Thursday announced plans to contribute up to €50m to help China build a facility to test carbon capture and storage technology .
The Commission said the investment illustrated the EU’s commitment to speeding the transfer of green technology to developing nations to fight global warming.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

EU invests in China carbon capture facility

By Joshua Chaffin in Luxembourg
Published: June 25 2009 14:09

The European commission on Thursday announced plans to contribute up to €50m ($70m, £43m) to help China build a facility to test carbon capture and storage technology.
While relatively small, the commission said the investment illustrated the European Union’s commitment to speeding the transfer of green technology to developing nations to further the fight against global warming.

China, in particular, is a top priority for CCS, which aims to trap carbon emissions from power plants and industrial facilities and bury them underground, because the country relies on coal for 70 per cent of its energy.
In 2007, China built the equivalent of one 500 megawatt coal-fired power plant every two-and-a-half days, according to the International Energy Agency, making it a central battleground in the effort to curb global warming.
“We have taken action to put in place the regulatory framework and the incentives to facilitate CCS demonstration in Europe and now we are making good on our promise to China,” said Stavros Dimas, the European environment commissioner.
Mr Dimas called the investment a “model for cooperation” in the run-up to a December summit in Copenhagen, where world leaders will try to agree a global deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Those negotiations have been bogged down so far in disputes about how much money developed economies such as the US and EU should contribute to China and other developing nations to help them reduce emissions and cope with the effects of global warming.
The agreement was announced as European environment ministers gathered in Luxembourg, where a discussion of the bloc’s negotiating position heading into Copenhagen was high on the agenda.
The commission estimated it would cost €730m to €980m to build and operate a CCS-equipped power plant in China. It said it would work with member states and the private sector to try to secure additional funding.
Earlier this year, the EU agreed to devote €1.05bn to help fund up to a dozen CCS pilot plants. CCS also got a boost in December, when heads of state agreed to set aside some of the revenues from carbon permit auctions to help fund plants. Depending on the price of carbon, those revenues cold total some 6bn to 9bn euros.
The support for CCS has drawn criticism from environmental groups and members of parliament, who have argued that the resources should instead be devoted to renewable energy, such as wind and solar, and efforts to improve energy efficiency. Some have also questioned whether the technology can be effective on an industrial scale.
However, the commission, the IEA and other proponents maintain that CCS will be vital until those technologies mature – particularly as China, India and other emerging economies burn abundant coal reserves to power their development.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Australia delays vote on carbon trading

By Elizabeth Fry in Sydney
Published: June 25 2009 09:45

The Australian government failed to get its carbon trading scheme through the Senate on Thursday after the opposition Coalition and crossbench senators criticised the scheme’s economic and environmental analysis as being inadequate.
The upper house delayed a vote until August 13 when parliament returns from a six-week winter break, although senators warned that they would block the bill unless aspects of the scheme were overhauled.

The legislation is designed to introduce a government cap and trade scheme by July 2011 which guarantees a 5 per cent reduction in emissions. The scheme taxes the top 1,000 emitters but the government will also provide partial compensation to emitters for some activities.
According to Nick Xenophon, an independent senator from South Australia, the government scheme lacked any robust analysis or comparison with alternative emissions trading schemes (ETS).
“The government has been acting like a used car salesman who will only let you test drive one model, and then insists on you buying it,” Senator Xenophon said.
The Coalition and Senator Xenophon argued on Thursday that the government proposal relied on the heavy taxing of emissions which would have a big, adverse impact on the economy without improving the environmental.
They planned to canvass alternative schemes and had committed to completing their analysis before Parliament resumes on August 13th.
Senator Xenophon promised the government – which is seven votes short of a majority in the upper house and did not have the numbers to pass the ETS legislation — that the legislation would be dealt with that week. “That’s something the government has signed on to,” he said. “It’s not their preferred course but it means we’ll have some certainty as to where we’re going with this legislation.”
Thursday’s decision followed four days of fierce debate in the upper house during which Penny Wong, the Climate Change Minister, accused the opposition of ”playing political games.”
“The government has been consistent in its determination to have this bill discussed and debated this week,” Ms Wong told parliament.
”We have been frustrated at every opportunity by the procedural tactics, delaying tactics and irresponsibility of the opposition.”
Despite the fact that the legislation will ultimately be defeated in August unless some compromise is reached, it is unlikely that Minister Wong will change the government’s proposal. She said that the scheme was the result of the most comprehensive ETS modelling Australia had ever done.
Because the legislation did not go through a vote on Thursday, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would not have a trigger for an early election until December.
In order to get a double dissolution trigger, the government must fail to pass the same bill twice, with a gap of three months between the two votes.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

EU to help China on carbon capture

By Joshua Chaffin
Published: June 26 2009 03:00

The European Commission yesterday announced plans to contribute up to €50m ($70m) to help China build a facility to test carbon capture and storage technology.
While relatively small, the commission said the investment illustrated EU commitment to speeding the transfer of green technology to developing nations to further the fight against global warming.
China, in particular, is a top priority for CCS, which aims to trap carbon emissions from power plants and industrial facilities and bury them underground.
Joshua Chaffin, Luxembourg
Full story at
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

International promises on greenhouse gas emissions

The Guardian, Thursday 25 June 2009

Scientists, via the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have said that by 2020 developed countries must make 25-40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990 levels. This is to give a better than even chance of limiting the ultimate rise in global temperature to under 2C, a level seen as representing dangerous climate change.
Here's what the main players have pledged so far by 2020, compared with 1990 levels:
EU ▼ 20-30%
US ◀ ▶0%
Japan ▼ 8%
Russia ▼ 10-15%
Australia ▼ 3-24%
Canada ▼ 3%
China, India and other developing nations will be asked at the Copenhagen negotiations to commit to reducing their emissions compared with "business as usual", but none has yet made a specific pledge.

Growth of global carbon emissions halved in 2008, say Dutch researchers

Recession and oil price main drivers behind fall in consumption as developing world emissions rise above 50% for first time
Duncan Clark, Thursday 25 June 2009 17.12 BST

The growth of global carbon dioxide emissions fell by half in 2008, according to data released today. The global recession and high oil prices played a major role in reducing the rate of emissions. But measures to tackle global warming by cutting emissions such as renewable energy were only partly responsible. The data from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) also show that, for the first time, CO2 emissions from the developing world account for more than half of the global total.
Analysis from the NEAA draws on fossil fuel consumption figures published last week by BP. It shows that the rise in the world's emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production in 2008 was just 1.7%, compared with 3.3% in 2007.
The slowdown in emissions growth was caused primarily by a 0.6% fall in the consumption of oil – the first decline in global oil use since 1992. This trend was unevenly distributed around the world. In China oil use continued to rise, but at only 3%, down from an average of 8% since 2001. In the US, oil consumption fell by a massive 7%.
The falling global demand reflects high prices for oil in the first half of 2008 and the economic slowdown in the second half of the year. Increasing biofuel production also helped displace a substantial volume of fossil-fuel petrol and diesel.
Jos Olivier, the NEAA researcher responsible for the new data, acknowledged that the environmental benefits of biofuels would look "less favourable" in a broader analysis considering the impact of all greenhouses gases, rather than CO2 alone. Furthermore, the data does not take into account the CO2 released by deforestation, which accounts for almost 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions and takes place overwhelmingly in the developing world.
Increasing renewable energy capacity and improving energy efficiency in many countries will also have contributed to the reduced rise in CO2 emissions. Olivier said: "The impact of energy and climate policy is hard to distinguish from those of fuel prices and the recession, but policies encouraging renewable electricity generation will have helped avoid around 500 million tonnes of CO2 from fossil-fuel power stations."
Coal consumption continued to creep up at a slower rate than in previous years, but the rise in the consumption of natural gas remained unchanged.
It is too early to determine whether the recession will lead to global emissions flattening off entirely this year. But policymakers are likely to be particularly struck by the second revelation in the NEAA analysis.
In 2008, the developing-world accounted for 50.3% of CO2 emissions, exceeding developed nations and international travel combined for the first time. With crucial UN climate negotiations over a successor to the Kyoto protocol now less than six months away, this new data will provide useful ammunition for those arguing for binding emissions targets for all nations.

Trade Penalties Weighed in Climate Bill

WASHINGTON -- House Democratic leaders Thursday weighed tough trade penalties on countries that don't cap so-called greenhouse-gas emissions, while President Barack Obama sought support from wavering lawmakers ahead of a vote on a climate bill.
The trade proposal is designed to protect a half dozen trade-sensitive U.S. industries, including steel, cement and chemical manufacturers, from competitors in countries that don't cap their output of greenhouse gases.

Top House Democrats and many members of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade policy, led the negotiations and effectively signed off on details of the plan late Thursday.
The measure -- expected to be folded into the 1,200-page proposal to curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions -- is tougher than a provision approved last month by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It would impose the sanctions in 2020, five years before the earlier-approved version would, and give Congress authority to levy a border fee, if the president chooses not to act, that would raise the cost of imported goods.
The inclusion of the trade-related provisions is meant to appease lawmakers from heavy industry states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan who worry that limits on U.S. emissions would put domestic industries at a disadvantage to competitors in countries like China that don't limit emissions.
Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.) said the changes are "designed to do no more than is necessary to ensure that this important legislation is trade neutral for our energy intensive industries."
White House aides said Thursday they were still reviewing the language on imports and were not sure it would remain in the bill that comes to a vote Friday. They declined to state the president's position on the issue.
Still short of votes, the president made personal and public appeals to wavering Democrats, making a brief statement in the Rose Garden and calling lawmakers.
The proposed border-adjustment program also includes commitments to help downstream industries that make use of products that face global competition.
As proposed, the sanctions would not take effect if the U.S. enters into a global agreement to limit emissions. The legislation establishes a series of U.S. objectives for any global agreement, including a demand that any international pact include enforcement mechanisms to shield companies from unfair competition.
China's government and some major U.S. business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, have warned of a trade war if the U.S. imposes tariffs on carbon-intensive imports such as steel. In a letter to Congress dated Wednesday, the Chamber warned that the provisions being considered by Ways and Means "could spark a trade war" and make U.S. companies that rely on imports less competitive.
Democratic aides and lawmakers suggested the legislation was still short of the 218 votes needed to ensure passage. It was unclear by how much, but individuals familiar with the vote-counting suggested Democrats were lacking 15 to 20 votes and perhaps more.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the legislation would have a fairly modest impact on the economy, with net annual economy-wide cost in 2020 of $22 billion -- or about $175 per household.
Republicans, and some major business groups have slammed the bill as an energy tax that would drive up the costs of goods and services and put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage with countries that don't operate under such caps.
On Thursday, Republicans cited Bureau of Economic Analysis data showing the U.S. economy contracted at an annual rate of 5.5% in the first quarter of 2009 as further evidence for scrapping the legislation.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with a handful of lawmakers from timber-producing states pushing for wood byproducts to be treated as a renewable-energy source under the bill.
Democratic leaders were also looking for ways to address the concerns of a handful of lawmakers worried that a provision of the bill goes too far in toughening oversight of derivatives, congressional aides said.—Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.
Write to Stephen Power at and Greg Hitt at

Climate change: the world looks to Washington

The Guardian, Friday 26 June 2009

Zoom down from the planetary perspective of climate science to the Washington committee corridors where America's climate policy gets thrashed out, and everything looks ugly. The House of Representatives today votes on the Waxman-Markey bill to establish a carbon cap-and-trade system, which shows all the signs of having been through the congressional mangle. It comes festooned with unattractive concessions to industries ranging from coal to biofuels. Worse, there is artful fuzziness on the central question of how far American emissions must fall. Unsightly - and sometimes alarming - as these blemishes are, they must not distract from the reality that the House will do something historic if it listens to the advice of Barack Obama and passes legislation that remains more ambitious than anything he promised on the campaign trail. If, as is more doubtful, the Senate does the same over the next few months, then the US can finally put a decade of denial behind it and turn up at December's Copenhagen summit in a position to give at least some sort of a lead to the world.
That meeting is charged with replacing the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gases, which the US never ratified. Its exclusion is not the only feature that renders the framework totally inadequate today; just as serious is the lack of any meaningful obligation on developing countries, which could be ignored in the 1990s but cannot be overlooked any longer. New figures from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency yesterday showed that the CO2 emissions from the developing world account for more than half the global total for the first time. The conversations that count in Copenhagen will be those between capitals that were never bound by Kyoto, and most particularly between Washington and Beijing. The fumes China belches out are largely generated in the course of serving the western consumer, a position that gives Beijing the right to do nothing until America demonstrates its commitment to making the first move.
Egged on by his determined climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown has grasped this logic, and appreciates that if every card is clung on to until the eleventh hour, Copenhagen will go the same way as the dismal Doha trade round. He will use a speech today to set out his approach, although his voice will command little direct authority, both because the UK negotiates through the EU and because it is not Brussels - which has had carbon targets for years - but Washington that holds the key to unlocking a deal.
The arrest this week of Nasa's climate scientist, James Hansen, as he protested at a coal-processing plant in West Virginia, seemed somehow to symbolise the struggle still faced by the forces of reason within the American establishment. Even before the amendments to Waxman-Markey, the pressures were evident in a cowardly change of language - environmentalists in the administration now talk less about the (obvious) need for carbon cuts than about those fuzzy objects, carbon profiles. They were evident, too, in the decidedly nervous noises that Steven Chu, the Nobel-winning energy secretary, has been making on the prospects for addressing America's ludicrously low rate of fuel taxation. Raising pump prices during a slump might be suicidal, but there should be other ways to start to wean Americans off their oil addiction - for example, putting a floor under the price of a gallon, which could then be increased over the years.
A dozen years of New Labour has repeatedly shown how, in the absence of a progressive strategy, mere tactics fill the void. Imperfect as it is, Waxman-Markey locks America into a plan, which is why it is so essential Congress endorses it today. Yes, the US is late to the climate-change fight; true, these steps are not big enough. But Washington is at last playing catch-up - and that is cause for modest optimism.

Democrats confident as US climate change bill vote looms

Sweeping energy and climate change bill would deliver key Obama administration promise to cut US carbon emissions

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 25 June 2009 12.10 BST

Democrats say they are confident of delivering on one of Barack Obama's defining promises tomorrow, by calling a vote in Congress on a sweeping energy and climate change bill.
The bill, produced with hands-on involvement from the White House and surrounded by an intense lobbying and PR offensive, would see the US commit for the first time to cutting back the carbon emissions that cause global warming.
After weeks of attack from Republicans, the energy reform package got an important boost yesterday when its most formidable opponent in Congress – the Democratic chair of the house agricultural committee – said he would now push for its passage.
"We think we have something here now that can work with agriculture," Collin Peterson, who led the Democratic opposition to the bill, told a conference call yesterday. "I think we will be able to get the votes to pass this."
Within the White House and in Congress, the vote is seen as a historic moment, both for Obama's political agenda and international efforts to reach a climate change treaty at Copenhagen at the end of the year.
"This legislation is a game changer of historic proportions," said Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who is one of the authors of the bill. "The whole world is waiting to see if Barack Obama can arrive in Copenhagen as a leader of attempts to reduce green house gas emissions."
The importance of the bill was underlined by the deep involvement from the White House. Obama earlier this week urged Congress to pass the bill, and aides have been closely involved in efforts to reach yesterday's compromise. The Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, took a gamble on moving up the date for a vote on the bill to tomorrow.
The gamble appeared to have paid off, with the Democratic leadership putting on a high-profile meeting yesterday with environmental, labour, war veterans and religious groups to talk up the bill's prospects.
"We are going to get this done," said Chris van Hollen, a member of the Democratic leadership in the house of representatives. "It's long overdue."
The bill, now swollen to about 1,200 pages, would bind the US to reduce the carbon emissions from burning oil and coal by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and more than 80% by 2050.
It also envisages a range of measures to promote clean energy – from a development bank for new technology to new, greener building codes and targets for expanding the use of solar and wind power.
The Democratic leadership is now hoping to pass the bill by a comfortable margin. Some environmental organisations have suggested that the bill might even win over a small number of Republicans, which would mean an important victory for Obama.
For the most part, however, Republicans have almost uniformly opposed the bill, and say it amounts to a hidden energy tax. They have also argued that the bill would drastically raise electricity prices – a claim debunked with the release of a cost-analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office showing it would cost the average family $175 (£107) by 2020, and would save poor families about $40.
The study – together with the compromises won by Peterson – have made the bill more palatable to Democrats from coal and oil states and from the old manufacturing areas.
"We have been taking people out of the 'no' column, into the 'undecided' column, into the 'yes' column," said Mike Doyle, a Democratic member from a former steel industry town in Pennsylvania. "The momentum is coming to 'yes'."
But Peterson's support appears to have come only after wringing a number of key concessions on the bill over several days of bargaining, overseen by the White House energy and climate advisor, Carol Browner, and other Obama administration officials.
The most significant concession would give the US Department of Agriculture – and not the Environmental Protection Agency – control over a programme that would reward farmers for practices that reduce carbon emissions.
Peterson also forced a four-year delay in a separate environmental regulation that would have cut the profits of corn-based ethanol, and encouraged the development of non-food biofuels instead.
Those concessions have deepened the concerns of some environmental organisations that the bill is not aggressive enough in cutting emissions. However, Henry Waxman, who has been leading the bill through Congress, argued that the most important element of the bill had come through the hard bargaining process intact.
"We have not given away the essentials of the bill because the essentials are the reduction of carbon emissions," he said.

Barack Obama pleads with Congress to pass historic climate change bill

Package that would slash US emissions likely to win approval despite opposition from Republicans and Democrat rebels

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 26 June 2009

Democrats in Congress are poised to vote through a sweeping energy and climate change bill tomorrow that could deliver on one of Barack Obama's signature election promises and galvanise international efforts to agree action on global warming.
The vote, which for the first time could see the US commit itself to cutting back the carbon emissions that cause climate change, prompted a frenzied last-minute PR offensive, with Obama making his third appeal in 48 hours for Congress to act on energy reform.
Passage of the bill, which would reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and offer incentives for energy efficiency and the development of clean energy technology, would hand Obama a personal victory at a time when he has run into strong opposition over the trillion-dollar price tag on his other main election promise, healthcare reform.
In a speech from the White House rose garden, Obama said the bill would create millions of green jobs and lay the foundations of a stable economy.
"I can't stress enough the importance of this vote," he said. "We cannot be afraid of the future, and we cannot be a prisoner of the past."
He also said the reforms were overdue, and crucial to demonstrating US leadership on the world stage. "We have been talking about this issue for decades and now it's time to act."
In Washington and beyond, the vote is seen as a historic moment, both for Obama's political agenda and international efforts to reach a climate change treaty at Copenhagen in December.
"This legislation is a game changer of historic proportions," said Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who is one of the authors of the bill. "The whole world is waiting to see if Barack Obama can arrive in Copenhagen as a leader of attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
The bill could allow America to claim a leadership role in international negotiations, diplomats said. "If this goes through, it's a very big achievement – no question," said one diplomat.
The bill sets less aggressive targets on reducing emissions than the EU has pledged, and is more generous to polluting industries than Obama had wanted. But he said: "This is a huge ocean liner, the US economy, and the question is, can we start changing [its] direction? Ten years out, it's not going to look as if the changes are massive. Twenty years out, suddenly you start really getting huge impacts. Thirty years out, you had a transformative difference in the economy. And that's how we've got to look at it."
The interventions from Obama capped an intensive lobbying effort for the bill by the White House and administration officials, Al Gore, and a broad coalition of environmental and business groups. The run-up had seen America's oil, gas and coal industry increase its lobbying budget by 50% in the first three months of the year to try to kill the bill. The spoiler campaign has run to hundreds of millions of dollars and involves industry front groups, lobbying firms, television, print and radio advertising, and donations to pivotal members of Congress.
The last-minute push came as the Democratic house speaker, Nancy Pelosi, went over the vote-counts. The Democrats have enough representatives to win but dissidents from farm and rustbelt states needed to be won over.
Democrats grew increasingly confident of the bill's passage earlier this week when its most formidable opponent in Congress, the Democratic chair of the house agricultural committee, said he would now push for its passage after winning concessions. "We think we have something here now that can work with agriculture," said Collin Peterson, who led the Democratic opposition to the bill. "I think we will be able to get the votes to pass this."
The stakes could not be higher. A defeat would destroy the last chances of enacting crucial energy legislation before the UN treaty negotiations at Copenhagen. It could also rebound on other items on Obama's to-do list. The bill must also be passed by the Senate before Obama signs it into law, and while the Democrats face a tougher fight there, tomorrow's likely victory would give them a burst of momentum.
The bill has faced almost uniform opposition from Republicans in the house, who say it amounts to a hidden energy tax. They have also argued that the bill would dramatically raise electricity prices – a claim debunked with the release of a cost analysis by the non-partisan ­Congressional Budget Office showing it would cost the average family a total of $175 (£107) by 2020, and would save poor families about $40.
The bill, now swollen to about 1,200 pages, would bind the US to reduce the carbon emissions from burning oil and coal by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and more than 80% by 2050.
It envisages measures to promote clean energy – from a development bank for new technology to new, greener building codes and targets for expanding the use of solar and wind power.
But there were concerns among ­environmentalists yesterday that the concessions had dangerously weakened the bill, and that the Senate could water down the green measures further.
After the reduction of the original ­emissions-cut target to 17% and the granting of far more free pollution permits for the cap-and-trade scheme than originally envisioned, the most significant concessions include how farmers are rewarded for practices that reduce carbon ­emissions, and a four-year delay in new regulations that would have cut the profits of corn-based ethanol and encouraged the ­development of non-food biofuels instead.
However, Henry Waxman, who has been leading the bill through Congress, argued that the most important element of the bill had come through the hard ­bargaining process intact.
"We have not given away the essentials of the bill because the essentials are the reduction of carbon emissions."
Most environmental organisations said the bill – though not as rigorous as they would have liked – was as stringent as could be expected from Congress and were hopeful of making improvements in the future. However, Greenpeace late yesterday said it could not support the bill, and called on Congress to defeat it.
" To support such a bill is to abandon the real leadership that is called
for at this pivotal moment in history," the organisation said.

Barack Obama's climate change bill will change the face of US industry

Jonathan Lash, Thursday 25 June 2009 23.35 BST

The US House of Representatives will vote tomorrow on a bill that would change the face of America's factories, power sources, buildings, landscapes and working patterns. I have been involved in a dozen pieces of landmark US environmental legislation over the last 30 years. None has been more important than this.
Let's start with the fact that the US has never had a coherent, comprehensive energy policy, and that the American clean energy and security act (Acesa) would provide one. The bill sets out a long-term road map to shift the world's biggest economy on to a low carbon path. My institute's analysis shows that it is the strongest climate bill ever to come before Congress, setting mandatory caps on sectors responsible for 87% of US greenhouse gas emissions including electric power, oil and gas, and heavy industry.
By putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, Acesa sends a vital message to businesses and investors that markets for low-carbon products and services are the future. The US is home to the most entrepreneurial and innovative private sector in the world. With this signal we can develop the technology to keep global warming within manageable limits.
Almost as important are the bill's international implications. With the months to the UN Copenhagen summit counting down, the world urgently awaits US leadership. The concrete greenhouse gas targets and additional carbon-cutting measures in this bill, and its provisions to help finance developing country adaptation to climate change, send a strong signal that the US is serious about negotiating a new global deal in Denmark this December.
If the house defeats the bill, it will be years before Congress returns to the subject. Meanwhile, the Copenhagen negotiations would collapse. Other nations would take Congress's failure to limit US emissions as a signal that the world economy will continue to pursue business-as-usual energy policies. And the planet continues to heat at an accelerating and dangerous rate.
Like many, I would like to see deeper cuts. But what is most important is to start changing the trajectory of the greenhouse gas-generating juggernaut that is the US economy. And the alternative is not a stronger bill, it is no bill.
Jonathan Lash is president of the World Resources Institute, based in Washington

Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband's blueprint for global warming deal

Duncan Clark, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 26 June 2009

Gordon Brown will tomorrow outline Britain's blueprint for a new international deal on global warming, which world leaders are pushing to be agreed at December's critical UN talks in Copenhagen. In a speech at London Zoo, the prime minister is expected to call on all developed countries, including Britain and the US, to show greater ambition in the fight against climate change.
The new agreement is intended to replace the Kyoto protocol in setting national limits on carbon pollution, and is billed by green campaigners as the last chance to save the planet from severe and dangerous levels of warming.
Brown and Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, will publish details in the government's Road to Copenhagen document, which Miliband said was aimed at revitalising public interest in the issue.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Miliband said: "People are still not sufficiently aware of the scale of the problem this could create for them and future generations in Britain.
"People believe climate change is happening in the UK, most people don't think it's a plot or something made up, but most people don't seem to think it will happen in their area."
He said Britain, which will negotiate the new treaty as part of the EU bloc, was pushing for the new deal to force emissions from developed nations to reach a peak by 2015.
Global greenhouse gas output should peak and begin to decline by 2020, to "irreversibly break" the trend of rising emissions.
Scientists have warned that global emissions need to peak in the next few years, and then significantly shrink, to avoid dangerous rises in temperature and changes to the climate.
Miliband said: "We're talking about reversing 150 to 200 years of the growth of carbon emissions. It's difficult, there are many obstacles in the way, but it's ­doable with the right political will."
The UK wants the deal to include ­commitments in three areas – emissions cuts by developed countries, reductions by developing countries compared with what they would emit without an ­agreement, and finance for climate change measures.
He said various countries, including the US, Japan and the EU, had already made offers of commitments they would sign up to, while China and other developing countries wanted a deal. But he said there needed to be "greater ambition from all countries" since the world could not afford to fail on the issue.
Miliband said his department has established a "Copenhagen war room" and ministers from across Whitehall are being instructed to raise the issue on all overseas visits.
A pamphlet explaining the risks posed by climate change and the importance of a Copenhagen deal is being sent to nearly 20,000 organisations across the UK – including libraries, schools, health centres and GP surgeries, as well as Citizens Advice centres and local authorities.
Miliband said: "There's a real danger of defeatism in this debate, a danger people think 'nothing can be done, it's inevitable, let's just hide under the bedclothes'."
He said leaders needed to be in the "business of optimism" and that he was genuinely optimistic about the efforts to tackle climate change.
The announcement comes the day after new data showed the growth of global ­carbon dioxide emissions fell by half in 2008 as a result of the recession, high oil prices and an increase in renewable energy. In addition, the figures show that, for the first time, carbon dioxide emissions from the developing world account for more than half of the global total.
The analysis, by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, shows that the rise in the world's emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production in 2008 was just 1.7%, compared with 3.3% in 2007.
The slowdown in emissions growth was caused primarily by a 0.6% fall in the consumption of oil – the first decline in global oil use since 1992. This trend was uneven around the world. In China, oil use continued to rise, but at only 3%, down from an average of 8% since 2001. In the US, oil consumption fell by a massive 7%.
By contrast, global coal use continued to creep up and the rise in the consumption of natural gas remained unchanged.
Increasing renewable energy capacity and improving energy efficiency in many countries also contributed to the reduced rise in carbon dioxide emissions. NEAA's Jos Olivier said: "The impact of energy and climate policy is hard to distinguish from those of fuel prices and the recession, but policies encouraging renewable electricity generation will have helped avoid around 500m tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel power stations."
It remains to be seen how the rate of emissions will change in 2009. If the recession continues to bite through the year, global emissions could flatten off entirely.
Meanwhile, policymakers are likely to be particularly struck by the revelation that, in 2008, the developing world accounted for 50.3% of carbon dioxide emissions, exceeding developed nations and international travel combined for the first time. This fact will provide ammunition for those arguing in favour of binding emissions ­targets for all nations, not just industrialised ones.
Furthermore, the data does not take into account the carbon dioxide released by deforestation, which accounts for almost 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions and takes place overwhelmingly in the developing world.

Climate change: cap and trade

Suzanne Goldenberg
The Guardian, Thursday 25 June 2009

The core of the American Clean Energy and Security Act is a cap and trade system that would bind the US to gradually reducing its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, from 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 83% by 2050. This is much lower than European targets. The caps would apply to 85% of polluting industries. Regulated industries will eventually need to buy permits to put carbon emissions into the atmosphere. But at the outset, 85% of those pollution licences will be distributed free to protect consumers from steep rises in their electricity bills and protect American businesses. Remaining funds would be used to support clean energy research and adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

Making climate change history

Passing the US climate change bill would go down in history as America's first significant step toward curbing carbon emissions

Kate Sheppard, Thursday 25 June 2009 19.00 BST

The US House of Representatives is set to vote on a comprehensive climate and energy bill on Friday, a move likely to go down in history as America's first significant step toward curbing planet-warming emissions.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act – the bill's official title – would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and more than 80% by 2050. It would put in place a renewable electricity standard requiring utilities to draw 20% of their power from renewables by 2020. It would also raise efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, and invest $190bn in energy-saving technology by 2025.
That said, the bill is not as tough as most environmentalists would like, or that science dictates is necessary. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said near-term reductions for developed countries need to be in the range of 25%-40% below 1990 levels to avert serious impacts. The US would cut emissions just 4% below 1990 levels under this bill. It allows for a significant portion of emissions reductions to be met by offsets rather than direct reductions, and a large portion of the pollution permits would be given to industry free of charge.
The bill also exempts older coal-fired power plants for a number of years, even though these are the biggest contributor to US emissions, and takes away the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate CO2 emissions from those plants. It also gives coal companies $60bn to invest in technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions.
Yet the bill is widely viewed as a good start in addressing climate change after years of federal government neglect. It's a bill that can potentially meet the needs of a Congress that often finds political and regional differences hard to overcome in crafting legislation, and is the result of weeks of compromise between its authors – Democrats Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts – and members who represent agricultural, industrial, coal and oil-producing states.
The fragile compromise that the authors have struck to get this bill through the House represents the first real opportunity for US action with the potential to pass in both chambers. This would be an historic accomplishment. The House has never before voted on a climate bill, while the Senate has rejected every previous attempt.
The bill also has the support of President Barack Obama, who has called it "historic legislation that will transform the way we produce and use energy in America". Obama's backing, and strong-arming of apprehensive Democrats by his administration, creates potential for action that has never before existed in Washington politics.
House leaders are still whipping votes as Friday's deadline for passage approaches. But advocates of climate action are gearing up to celebrate a major landmark.

Climate science is by nature uncertain

For climate sceptics, the mere presence of uncertainty is reason enough to doubt. But doubt is not an enemy – it is the stimulus that drives science forward

Adam Corner, Thursday 25 June 2009 13.47 BST

It seems the one thing climate change sceptics are certain of is uncertainty, in particular how uncertainty in the predictions of climate models fatally undermines their legitimacy.
So the recent revelation of the UK government's projections of global warming through to 2080 was met, predictably, with some cynicism by the deniers. While some commentators used the detailed projections about possible future UK climate scenarios to underscore why we must take strong action on climate change, the response of climate sceptics was to say that the error bars in the projections made them worthless.
Never mind that the level of uncertainty about mean temperature increase, sea level rise and seasonal rainfall was dealt with in painstaking and meticulous detail in the report. For some, the mere presence of uncertainty was reason enough to doubt. But uncertainty is not an enemy of science that must be conquered – it is the stimulus that drives science forward. As in economic forecasts, medical diagnoses, and policy making, uncertainty runs through climate science like the lettering in sticks of rock.
The good news is that scientists are particularly adept at acknowledging, identifying and modelling it. The Met Office team responsible for the climate projections managed to systematically indicate what they did know, what they didn't know and how confident they were about these judgments. If there's one group of people who have thought long and hard about uncertainty, its climate scientists. But Irene Lorenzoni and her colleagues at the University of East Anglia have shown that people frequently view uncertainty as a reason for inaction on climate change.
Such is the level of scepticism in some quarters that climate scientists are constantly required to apologise for what they don't know, rather than encouraged to communicate what they do.
But uncertainty is not the same as ignorance – which is why the labelling of GM food became mandatory in 2004. The Food Standards Agency did not demand certainty before taking action, although the uncertainty surrounding the risks of genetic modification is far greater than the considered consensus of climate science.
One reason that so much attention is given to the uncertainty associated with climate models is that they form the basis of important and costly policy decisions. But the "precautionary principle" is a well-established method of policy making when uncertainty prevails, on the basis that it is better to be safe than sorry. Could it be that climate sceptics' obsession with uncertainty is simply an unwillingness to accept the consequences of the climate changing – that their lifestyles will have to change as well?
The UK climate projections are not a weather forecast for 3 July 2078. They are a set of scientifically rigorous probabilistic assessments of what the UK climate might be like in, say, 50 years time. But the writers of the report seemed to feel compelled to get their counter-arguments in early. Of course, it is absolutely essential that all uncertainties in climate models are made clear. But it's odd reading a scientific report where the caveats come before the take-home message.
There is one crucial uncertainty, however, that cannot be captured in any climate model: the extent to which action is taken to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases. The irony of the debate surrounding what we can and can't infer from climate models is that they sketch out possible, not inevitable futures. By giving us some idea of what lies ahead, they furnish us with a critical opportunity to change course. Rather than procrastinating about uncertainty – an inescapable fact of life – we should be taking the opportunity to get serious about climate change, and prove the climate models wrong.
• Dr Adam Corner is in the understanding risk research group at Cardiff University

Science Museum has a vital role in the climate change debate

One hundred years after it first opened its doors, the Science Museum is more relevant than ever

Chris Rapley, Friday 26 June 2009 00.05 BST

A mischievous deity, determined to confront humanity with an especially vexed challenge, would ensure that the nature of the problem was complex and scientific and that the connection between the underlying personal actions and their consequences was not obvious. The sneaky god would also ensure that convincing evidence for the problem would emerge almost too late for a response, that there would be vested interests motivated to sow doubt and confusion, that there would be no self-correcting market mechanism, and that there would be inadequate or absent instruments and institutions to support effective action.
No wonder then that decarbonising the world's energy system to avoid dangerous climate change is proving to be intractable, for it embodies all these features. Despite the rhetoric and a host of initiatives by individuals, corporations and governments, human carbon emissions continue to increase, with no sign of the essential peak and decline. The latest research indicates that if the maximum does not occur by 2015, we will almost certainly have committed ourselves to changes in weather patterns that will adversely affect our food and water supplies, as well as triggering an ineluctable, long-term rise in world sea level.
One hundred years ago the future looked brighter. Our forebears saw science and engineering as the means to improve the human condition. They celebrated the fruits of industrialisation in cathedrals of innovation, such as the Science Museum. The practitioners were the celebrities of the day, and people flocked to see the wonders that were shaping the future. Many were inspired to become the scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who designed and built the modern world.
So as the Science Museum enters its second century today, what is its role? I believe little has changed from a century ago, except for the degree of urgency. Our unique collection provides us with a powerful means to make sense of the science that shapes our lives. We seek to raise curiosity and release creativity, and to do so in a way that engages and inspires our visitors to participate in shaping the future.
In particular, our climate change gallery, currently being designed, aims to change the way people think, talk and act about climate change. A glimpse into the museum's enormous reserve collection of objects (only 6% of the collection is on public display), or along the 20km of historical books and technical documentation in our library, can quickly convince of the ability of the scientists and engineers of the world to develop the array of technical solutions that can make a sustainable future possible.
What is not clear, is whether humanity has the capacity to marshal this technical capability and to exploit it in time. This is where the role of the museum as a trustworthy source of information, and its track record of presenting a balanced view of the evidence will be especially valuable in stimulating public debate. With many experts viewing the upcoming UN's Copenhagen Conference in December this year as "the last chance saloon" to put in place the international negotiating mechanism without which a globally coordinated effort cannot take place, the importance of such debate is paramount.
The Science Museum may be 100 years old, but it has never been more relevant.
• Professor Chris Rapley CBE is director of the Science Museum

BP chairman-elect keen to keep green issues at heart of agenda

By Ed Crooks and Andrew Parker

Published: June 26 2009 03:00

Environmental concerns would remain a central issue for BP, the oil group's chairman-designate signalled yesterday with a warning that the world needed to adapt to avoid strain on resources.
Carl-Henric Svanberg, chief executive of Swedish telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson, told the Financial Times that the pace of growth of car ownership and air travel was unsustainable.
"With a normal growth rate, the world's [gross domestic product] will triple by 2050, and we will probably see another 2bn people in the world," he said. "If we continue to do things in the world in the same way as we do today, it will not be so easy for this planet to cope with that. So we have to find more intelligent solutions, and the energy industry is in the centre of that."
BP has been criticised by green campaigners for failing to live up to its "beyond petroleum" slogan, but takes a more active position than many oil companies.
BP surprised investors with the appointment of Mr Svanberg, who has no experience in the industry. However, leading shareholders contacted by the Financial Times yesterday raised no fundamental concerns.
The previous front-runner, Paul Skinner, the former chairman of mining group Rio Tinto, was forced to drop out after protests from shareholders angered by his support for Rio's now abandoned deal with Chinalco.
Mr Svanberg would join the BP board as a non-executive director and chairman-designate on September 1 before taking up his role fully on January 1 next year, the company said.
He replaces Peter Sutherland, chairman since 1997, who has led BP during a period of spectacular growth.
Separately, Ericsson said it had appointed Hans Vestberg, chief financial officer, to replace Mr Svanberg as chief executive.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Offshore wind farms could meet a quarter of the UK's electricity needs

Offshore wind has the potential to power every home in the UK and provide up to 70,000 jobs, according to the government

Press Association, Thursday 25 June 2009 10.48 BST

The UK's seas could provide enough extra wind energy to power the equivalent of 19m homes, according to an assessment by the government.
The government's strategic environmental assessment (Sea) confirmed projections that an extra 25GW of electricity generation capacity could be accommodated in UK waters.
This would be in addition to the 8GW of wind power already built or planned offshore, bringing the potential total electricity capacity of offshore wind to 33GW – enough to power every household in the UK.
According to the government, offshore wind has the potential to meet more than a quarter of the UK's electricity needs, provide the UK with up to 70,000 new jobs and generate £8bn a year in revenue.
The findings of the Sea mean the crown estate can push ahead with round three of leasing UK waters for offshore wind farms.
Under round three, the estate has earmarked 11 areas which have the potential to be viable offshore wind sites, due to the levels of wind, water depth and potential connection to the grid, and taking in shipping and environmental concerns.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) and energy regulator Ofgem also announced today they were opening the tendering process to companies to provide the £15bn of new cabling needed to connect new wind farms.
The energy and climate change minister, Lord Hunt, said: "Offshore wind is fundamental to delivering our target of 15% renewable energy by 2020, and looking ahead to reducing our carbon emissions by 80%."
He said wind power presented a "huge opportunity" for the UK industry.
"We're already the world's number one offshore wind power. With the right support, we can grow the industry even further, supporting tens of thousands of high-value, green manufacturing jobs."
A report on offshore wind construction by the British Wind Energy Association suggests that 9GW of wind power capacity will be built by 2015, with wind overtaking nuclear in terms of installed capacity in the next four to five years.
The BWEA said the government still needed to create a policy framework for wind, facilitate grid connections and ease supply chain pressures – some of the hurdles offshore wind farms face.
If annual deployment of wind capacity hit 4GW to 5GW a year Europe-wide, prices for installing wind farms could fall by 20%.
Doug Parr, Greenpeace chief scientist, said: "Offshore wind farms must be a key part of the UK's future energy supply.
"And they won't just generate electricity, they'll also generate thousands of British jobs and help tackle energy security.
"But, if Britain is to get all the benefits that offshore wind will provide, the government must do more to support the industry."
The Green party leader, Caroline Lucas, said wind power was one of the major tools for tackling climate change, and called for "urgent government commitment and serious government funding" to make sure the UK's wind industry could reach its full potential.

Sears Tower to install wind turbines, solar panels and gardens

America's tallest building to undergo $350m green renovation

Associated Press, Thursday 25 June 2009 10.27 BST

Wind turbines, roof gardens and solar panels will join the pair of antennas atop the Sears Tower's staggered rooftops in Chicago, said building officials who announced on Wednesday that the skyscraper would undergo a $350m green renovation.
The five-year project would reduce the tower's electricity use by 80% and save 24 million gallons of water a year, building owners and architects said.
Separately, a 50-storey, 500-room privately funded luxury hotel with its own green components would be built next to the skyscraper within five years.
"Our plans are very ambitious," said John Huston of American Landmark Properties, who represents the building ownership. "Our plans to modernise and transform this icon will re-establish Sears Tower as a leader, a pioneer."
The environmental upgrades are the latest changes affecting Sears Tower.
In March, London-based Willis Group Holdings announced that the Sears Tower would be renamed Willis Tower later this summer after the company has moved 500 employees into the building. And construction is under way on the tower's Skydeck to add four enclosed glass-bottomed balconies.
The green project includes the installation of solar panels on the tower's 90th floor roof to heat water used in the building. Different types of wind turbines will be positioned on the tower's tiered roofs and tested for efficiency. And between 30,000 square feet (2,787 square meters) and 35,000 square feet (3,250 square meters) of roof gardens will be planted.
"This endeavour is incredibly important as a role model for others to follow," architect Adrian Smith said. "We see this as a groundbreaking opportunity."
Other changes to the 110-storey skyscraper, the tallest building in the United States, include improvements to the 16,000 window pieces along the outside of the tower to save heating energy; mechanical system upgrades; updates to the building's 104 elevators; an advanced lighting control system and restroom renovations aimed at saving water.
Officials dispelled rumors the building's black exterior would be painted silver to increase energy efficiency.
"We don't have any plans to change colors at this time," Huston said.
The project should create 3,600 jobs, officials said, and will include a learning centre on the ground floor showcasing green efforts to the public.
Sears Tower first opened in 1973, designed by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merril, the same firm that designed the city's John Hancock Tower.
Sears Roebuck and Co was the building's original tenant before the department store moved its headquarters to the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates in 1992. A real estate investment group formed in 2004 now owns the 1,451-foot (442-metre) skyscraper.
Officials say they'd like the tower to achieve "LEED" status, otherwise known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a standard monitored by the US Green Building Council.

As an Efficiency Rating, the Energy Star Has Faded

Homes Given the Eco-Designation Could Face Tougher Rules if the EPA Revises a Program It Says Is Too Lax

For cars, there is the hybrid. For lights, there is the compact fluorescent bulb. For subdivisions, there is the "Energy Star" house -- another way technology is allowing Americans to consume less energy without having to change the way they live.
Launched in the 1990s, the sky-blue Energy Star logo is the U.S. government's seal of approval for more energy-efficient products, from kitchen appliances to entire homes. Last year, builders scored the Energy Star designation for one in five new homes nationwide, a stamp they touted heavily in their ads.
But people who think an Energy Star house represents the height of energy savings should think again.
See the percentage of new homes built in 2008 that qualified for the EPA's Energy Star designation.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the program, says the Energy Star standards are too weak and need updating based on current technology. The program ignores small improvements that could bring big efficiency gains for comparatively little cost, such as low-flow showerheads and better insulation around windows. And the EPA notes that it is easier for a 5,500-square-foot house to get the Energy Star seal than a 1,500-square-foot house -- even though the bigger house likely consumes much more energy.
The EPA is preparing to roll out tougher rules to ensure the logo represents robust environmental standards. But it has to walk a fine line, particularly during the recession. If it pushes too hard, builders are likely to bow out of the voluntary program due to the added expense. Their concerns come as the Obama administration is pushing for what amounts to a mandatory nationwide building-efficiency rule. That provision is in an energy bill that the House is expected to vote on today. Builders worry it will raise the sticker price of new houses.
The tougher Energy Star standard "is going to make it more complicated and expensive," says Steve Saunders, whose Texas company, TexEnergy Solutions, is paid by home builders to inspect and certify houses under Energy Star. Though he calls the stricter rules "well thought-out," he predicts they could prompt "a huge number" of builders to leave the program.
Talk of energy efficiency typically focuses on fuel economy on the road. But buildings burn more than automobiles. Together, residential and commercial buildings account for about 40% of U.S. energy use, compared with about 17% for cars and light trucks. A recent Department of Energy study concluded that a typical house's energy use could be cut by at least 30%. It found the monthly mortgage payment needed to cover the higher construction costs would be more than offset by lower monthly energy bills.

The cheapest and easiest way to make a difference is to do it right the first time, when a house is built. Though automobiles have been subjected to a federal fuel-economy standard for three decades, houses have avoided such a nationwide rule. That has left regulation of buildings' energy use in the hands of state and local governments. Standards can vary widely from place to place -- just as they should, home builders say.
The Energy Star standard is compared to a "model" building-efficiency guideline used by state and local governments. To earn the Energy Star label, a new house must score at least 15% better than what that "model" guideline stipulates. The rating takes into account such things as insulation, windows, heating-and-cooling ducts and appliances.
Energy Star has succeeded in popularizing efficient products. It has become the most consistent guide for consumers who want to know the energy efficiency they're getting for their money -- boosting demand and driving down costs. The modern residential thermal window, which curbs energy waste, used to be expensive but is now common in entry-level houses.
But the program's shortcomings show how difficult it can be to achieve widespread energy savings. Consider Texas, the nation's biggest single-family home market and the epicenter of the Energy Star program. Some 32,000 Energy Star houses were built last year in Texas -- five times as many as in the No. 2 Energy Star state, Arizona. Fully 41% of all new single-family homes built last year in Texas got the Energy Star label, according to the EPA.
Kaden Homes, a builder based in Fort Worth, builds houses that typically cost about $500,000 -- luxury level in the local market. Among them is a four-bedroom, multi-gabled model the company calls the Llano -- Spanish for a wide, open plain. Like all Kaden houses, the Llano gets the Energy Star rating.
The Llano, at 4,400 square feet, is 57% larger than the average four-bedroom house in the U.S., which is about 2,800 square feet, according to EPA data. Beyond big rooms, the Llano has vaulted ceilings -- meaning more space to be cooled, heated and lit.
A larger four-bedroom home will almost certainly consume more total energy than a smaller four-bedroom home. But it will likely rate as more efficient when energy consumption is measured per square foot -- as the Energy Star ratings do.
To win Energy Star status for the Llano, Kaden Homes hasn't had to shrink its rooms or lower its ceilings to consume less energy. It has chosen less-visible tweaks, such as installing shiny panels on the inside of attic ceilings -- so-called radiant barriers -- that reflect heat from the sun back toward the sky, helping cool a house in a hot Texas summer.
Even with such Energy Star features, a house the size of the Llano typically consumes more energy than the average four-bedroom American house, given that the residents of the bigger house plug in more electronic devices, says Sam Rashkin, the EPA's national director of the Energy Star new-home program.
Big houses would lose their advantage under the tougher rule the EPA is preparing. It includes what would amount to a gas-guzzler penalty for houses. In the case of those two four-bedroom homes, the one that is bigger than average would have to improve its efficiency by a greater percentage than the one that is smaller than average. The rule, which the EPA plans to finalize this year and implement in 2011, is intended "to reward appropriate smallness and penalize wasteful largeness," as the EPA puts it in a document explaining the change.
Gradually, some states and cities are adopting their own stricter building-efficiency codes. To stay ahead, the new Energy Star rule also would require such measures as low-flow showerheads to curb hot-water use, new framing tactics to accommodate more insulation, and tougher inspections to ensure that a house is put together in a way that seals the interior space tightly.
Big houses, which the new Energy Star program seeks to penalize, have their appeal. Cherie and Craig Hundley built a Llano house last year atop a hill in Burleson, Texas, near Forth Worth. Ms. Hundley says she wanted to build a smaller house to save energy. But her husband wanted a room to play his stringed instruments and another to store his collection of political memorabilia. The couple ended up expanding the Llano's floor plan to 4,800 square feet. "It's a great house," Ms. Hundley says.
Jeffrey Ball responds to reader comments at Email him at

China Seeks Report on Dam's Ecological Effects

BEIJING -- China's environment ministry said it has ordered an ecological assessment for a proposed Yangtze River dam that conservationists fear could threaten hundreds of fish species and drive the giant Chinese sturgeon into extinction.
Chinese environmentalists and scientists are trying to halt the Xiaonanhai dam, upstream from Chongqing city in mountainous western China, saying that it and two other dams would flood most of the last remaining fish reserve on the Yangtze, preventing the migration of rare fish.
Agence France-Presse
A fisherman returns home to a migrant village up-river from the Three Gorges dam project near Chongqing, China, last year. At least 1.4 million people have been forced to resettle from now-submerged areas.
They argue that could lead to the extinction of species such as the Chinese sturgeon, one of the world's longest freshwater fish.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection's chief engineer, Wan Bentai, announced the environmental assessment order at a news conference Thursday, saying the ministry has the power to reject the project if it is shown to be harmful to the environment.
"The Chinese government is fond of developing hydropower, but we must take into account the environmental effects of those projects," Mr. Wan said.
He said the assessment will be commissioned by the Chongqing government, but it was unclear when it would be finished.
China has pumped money into hydropower as part of plans to wean its economy off its dependency on coal. There are more than 25,800 large dams in China -- more than any other country, according to International Rivers, a nonprofit group based in California. Critics say the dams will obstruct the free flow of the river and threaten aquatic life.
Some 338 species of fish live in the Yangtze River basin, 162 of them unique to the river, a group of scientists and environmentalists wrote last month in the China Economic Times.
Copyright © 2009 Associated Press

Cambridge research could lead to real-time pollution maps

Charles Arthur, Thursday 25 June 2009 14.07 BST

Map of carbon monoxide in Cambridge. Source: Cambridge Mobile Urban Sensing Project
A chance encounter in the coffee lounge of the Cambridge chemistry department could lead to real-time maps of pollution in the city, as an offshoot of an EU project that is nearing completion in the city.
A team in Cambridge which has been running the Cambridge Mobile Urban Sensing project (CamMobSens) will begin equipping volunteers on bicycles and on foot with mobile phones and pollution sensors linked by Bluetooth.
The sensors will monitor the levels of carbon monoxide and NOx (nitrogen oxides) in the city air and relay them to satellites, which will pass them directly to openly accessible databases being run by the project.
The government does provide an overview of air quality at its own site,, but the data is not real-time, and is not mapped in detail, although it is possible to get a Google Earth download which will show the air quality as measured by roadside monitors.
But Professor Peter Murray-Rust, who happened to meet Mark Calleja, the head of the CamMobSens project during a coffee break, has now suggested that the results could be mapped in real time onto the free open-source maps provided by the OpenStreetMap project, a British-inspired project which uses volunteers using GPS locators to create maps of cities and, in time, countries.
Murray-Rust is now appealing to the OpenStreetMap team to get in touch with Calleja, so that by the time the project begins later this summer it will be possible to add the pollution information immediately to maps from OpenStreetMap.
The advantage of using OpenStreetMap rather than online maps from the UK's official mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, is that there are no copyright implications in the addition of data to the maps - and no limits or charges on viewing of the maps. Ordnance Survey has recently eased its restrictions on non-commercial organisations using custom online maps through a specialised web interface, but issues remain over its licensing of unrestricted access to those maps.
If it succeeds, it won't be the first time that Cambridge's university coffee has had a dramatic effect. In 1991 a group at the Cambridge Computer laboratory aimed a webcam at a coffee pot downstairs from their laboratory so that they wouldn't have to walk downstairs to find out if it was empty or full. The webcam was later put onto the world wide web - and engineers at Microsoft showed it to Bill Gates in 1994 to persuade him that the web would be important by making it feasible for people anywhere to stay in touch - even with their coffee pots.

Solved: riddle of Siberia's flattened forest

A century on, scientists say massive explosion was caused by comet collision
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Friday, 26 June 2009

A massive explosion that flattened an entire forest in northern Russia over an area of 800 square miles more than a century ago was almost certainly caused by the Earth colliding with a comet, according to a study by rocket scientists in the United States.
The explosion in 1908 occurred in the sky at a remote location in Siberia near the Tunguska river. It is estimated to have been equivalent to a 20-megaton nuclear bomb, which would have decimated everything within the M25 had it occurred over London rather than a largely uninhabited region.
Tunguska has long been the subject of intense speculation, with suggested causes ranging from the release of a gigantic cloud of explosive methane gas from underground, to a collision with anti-matter particles from deep space, or even the crash of a visiting extra-terrestrial spacecraft.
One of the most likely explanations, however, had been that the Earth was hit by a piece of space rock – but a number of scientific expeditions to the area failed to find the impact crater, suggesting that if such a meteoroid had struck the Earth in 1908 it must have exploded high enough in the atmosphere to have disintegrated before reaching the ground.
Now a team of researchers studying the plumes of water vapour created by the rocket engines of the Space Shuttle believe they have found the crucial evidence in favour of another theory: a collision with the icy heart of a comet.
This would have released huge volumes of water vapour at very high altitude, creating highly reflective clouds that may explain why the sky was lit up for days after the collision, with people as far away as London saying that they could read newspapers outdoors at midnight, the scientists said.
"It's almost like putting together a 100-year-old murder mystery," said Michael Kelley professor of engineering at Cornell University in New York. "The evidence is pretty strong that the Earth was hit by a comet in 1908."
The dramatic illumination of the night sky in the day after the event on 30 June 1908 was probably caused by the formation of "noctilucent" clouds – named because they are visible at night – which are made up of ice particles formed at very high altitude and low temperatures, Professor Kelley said.
A study of exhaust plumes from the Space Shuttle have shown how noctilucent clouds can form a day after a shuttle launch and many miles from its flight path due to high-speed winds generated at this altitude, the scientists found. The exhaust plume is a model of how a comet would have created similar noctilucent clouds, they said.
The appearance of skies bright enough to read newspapers at night as far away as London – some 3,000 miles away from Tunguska – could be explained by the transport of huge volumes of water vapour arising from the comet by the high winds of the upper atmosphere where these clouds form, Professor Kelley said.