Pull the plug on the climate change bill

Few problems require federal action more urgently than global warming. I admire the members of Congress who have been trying to address this issue. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman tried to get the best deal he could. Senator John Kerry has tried to keep things moving in the upper chamber. Senator Lindsey Graham is getting tons of grief from fellow Republicans because he admits that climate change is a problem.

I want to support these people and their efforts to get a bill on the president’s desk. Unfortunately, the time has come to accept that Congress is too influenced by corporate interests to deal with climate change in any serious way. Pretending to fight global warming won’t solve the problem and may even be counter-productive.

This depressing post continues after the jump.

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Speak up for wiser investments in transportation

I learned from 1000 Friends Of Iowa that the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization are seeking public input on two important issues.

The DOT is finalizing the Statewide Public Transportation Study and will make recommendations to the state legislature in December. Officials want to hear from Iowans about:

   * Baseline level of service for public transportation in Iowa

   * Gap analysis between baseline service and public transportation demands of Iowans.

   * Transportation services needed to close these gaps.

   * The additional cost of these services.

   * Addressing Iowa’s energy conservation goals.

   * The range of possible funding concepts to address service needs.

   * Draft findings of the study to date.

You can comment on any of these issues at public meetings in Centerville, Sioux City, Des Moines, Iowa City, Bettendorf, or Waterloo on September 15-17 (event details are after the jump). Alternatively, you can submit comments through an online survey at www.iRIDE21.com.

Anyone with an opinion on how to improve Iowa’s passenger transportation should let the DOT know. You do not have to be an expert or policy wonk. Remember, public transit is not just for big city residents. An express bus or vanpool that takes people from a smaller town to work in a nearby larger city saves passengers money while reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year the weekly Cityview profiled Winterset resident Ann Pashek, who saves thousands of dollars a year through the Des Moines Area Transit Authority’s Rideshare program.

Meanwhile, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is hosting the last series of public input meetings on the Horizon Year 2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. They need to hear from central Iowa residents who are concerned about land use, air quality and global warming.

Although reducing vehicle miles driven is a critical element of any plan to address greenhouse gas emissions, the DMAMPO’s plan for the next 25 years involves 341 projects that, if completed, would increase vehicle miles traveled in our region by 33 percent (by the DMAMPO’s own calculations). 1000 Friends of Iowa adds:

The study also indicated that despite increases in [vehicle miles traveled], cleaner vehicles and fuels will result in continued reductions in vehicle pollutant emissions.  Gasoline was used in their project model.  However, when ethanol was used the increase in CO2 was 66% higher.  DNR Air Quality Division has studies which conclude that emissions with ethanol are substantially higher.   It seems this plan will not reduce VMTs or promote cleaner air.

The DMAMPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) is hosting the final series of public input meetings to receive input and comments on the HY 2035 MTP final draft. You must tell the DMAMPO that Central Iowans want to concentrate more transportation dollars on alternatives which will promote the responsible use of our states resources, land water and air. This is the most important series of meetings, please mark your calendars, plan to attend and make your opinion count!

The DMAMPO meetings are on September 15 and 16 at the North Side Library in Des Moines. Event details are in the 1000 Friends of Iowa action alert, which I’ve posted after the jump. That also includes talking points as well as contact information for those who prefer to submit written comments to the DMAMPO. Anyone can send a comment; you do not have to have attended a public meeting.

On a related note, today is the last day to submit a comment urging the DNR to protect water quality in Iowa’s cleanest lakes and streams. Please take a minute to send an e-mail to the right DNR officials.

So much policy that affects our lives is made below the radar. If I weren’t involved with 1000 Friends of Iowa, I would never have heard of these discussions about transportation priorities. If I weren’t involved with the Iowa Environmental Council and the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, I would not have heard of the debate over water quality rules either. I encourage you to join some non-profit organizations that are active on matters important to you. You will become much more informed than if you rely solely on the mainstream media.

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Rants misses the point of the Power Fund

State Representative Chris Rants promised to run his gubernatorial campaign on “Diet Coke and Casey’s pizza and ethanol,” but attacks on Governor Chet Culver are the real fuel for his political ambitions. He’s been bashing Culver’s economic policies all summer. His latest target is the Power Fund, which Rants would ax to help balance the state budget.

Culver and his office have repeatedly cited a study by the Green Jobs Initiative Committee, which estimated that Iowa has more than 8,700 “green jobs,” a substantial increase in the past few years. Culver has credited the Power Fund with helping create thousands of jobs, while Rants says Culver is misleading Iowans because fewer than 100 jobs can be directly attributed to Power Fund grants.

If I were Culver, I would seize the chance to debate renewable energy with Republicans.  

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Open thread on Obama in Newton for Earth Day

I won’t be able to watch President Barack Obama’s Earth Day appearance in Newton live, but I’m putting up this thread so that others can talk about it.

Iowa Global Warming will be twittering the event here and will upload video at these sites:

http://www.youtube.com/user/io…

http://www.mogulus.com/igwc

I’m all for green jobs and boosting renewable energy production. Let’s make sure the jobs in this industry pay well with good benefits, though.

I’ll update with thread later with more details from and reaction to Obama’s speech in Newton.

UPDATE: The text of Obama’s remarks (as prepared) is after the jump. Lots of good stuff in there, such as:

“Today I am announcing that my administration is taking another historic step. Through the Department of Interior, we are establishing a program to authorize ­ for the first time ­ the leasing of federal waters for projects to generate electricity from wind as well as from ocean currents and other renewable sources,” Obama said to about 200 in at Trinity Structural Towers in Newton.

“It’s a win-win. It’s good for the environment. It’s great for the economy,”

he said.

Obama continued to advocate for a cap and trade policy to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Iowa Democrats twittered that the president called for connecting Des Moines to Chicago via high-speed rail, but I didn’t find that in the prepared remarks (just a general statement about investing in high-speed rail).

The Des Moines Register found it noteworthy that the president

didn’t mention ethanol by name.

In particular, ethanol interests might have hoped that Obama would at least put in a good word for the expansion of the allowable blend of ethanol with unleaded gasoline for conventional automobile engines from the current 10 percent to 15 percent.

But Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said he wasn’t upset.

“Frankly, the Environmental Protection Agency (which will make the E-15 decision) gets sued all the time and one of the things they’re hit with is that their decisions might be based on politics rather than technology or science,” said Shaw.

“So it is probably better for us that the President not mention E-15 today,” Shaw continued. “The science is on our side. But we don’t need people challenging the EPA later, after they make a favorable decision on E-15, saying that it was based on politics and using the President’s remarks as evidence.”

Maybe the Register meant that Obama didn’t mention E-15 by name, or maybe the president deviated from his prepared remarks, which included this paragraph:

My budget also makes unprecedented investments in mass transit, high-speed rail, and in our highway system to reduce the congestion that wastes money, time, and energy. And it invests in advanced biofuels and ethanol, which, as I’ve said, is an important transitional fuel to help us end our dependence on foreign oil while moving toward clean, homegrown sources of energy.

If you watched the video, please tell us what you thought.

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Emperor "Clean Coal" has no clothes

A Siegel has a great diary up on a new television advertising campaign launched by the “Reality Coalition” today to convey this message: “In reality, there’s no such thing as clean coal.” I love the use of humor in the ad:

After the jump, I’ve posted the whole press release issued by the Reality Coalition. You can sign up to join their effort by clicking here.

My only concern about this message is that it suggests greenhouse-gas emissions are the only thing that makes coal “dirty.” Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems. This fine particulate matter, also known as particulate matter 2.5, “is much smaller in size and a more serious health hazard” than larger soot particles known as particulate matter 10.

Even if greenhouse gases and all other pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants could be controlled, coal mining itself would still create adverse environmental impacts. Making coal “clean” would require a lot more than capturing the carbon emissions.

Quibbles aside, I think this commercial is outstanding and look forward to more from the Reality Coalition.

I hope that future advertising will directly combat the coal industry’s claim that we need new coal plants to meet future demand for electricity. In April, Iowa regulators approved Alliant’s application to build a new coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown, and later explained that they did so because they think renewable energy sources will not be sufficient to meet Iowa’s base-load electricity needs in the future.

The environmental movement needs to convince not only the public but also policy-makers from Barack Obama down to state-level regulators that Al Gore’s vision of ending our reliance on carbon-based fuels is realistic.

UPDATE: A commenter at MyDD pointed me to a recent report from Greenpeace called The True Cost of Coal. It contains much more information about health and environmental hazards associated with mining and burning coal.  

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DNR should strictly limit pollutants from proposed coal plant

Ever since the Iowa Utilities Board voted 2-1 to approve Alliant’s application to build a new coal-fired power plant outside Marshalltown, environmentalists have been hoping the Iowa Department of Natural Resources would be strict when issuing a draft air permit for the plant.

Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.

Neila Seaman, director of the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, wrote an op-ed column published in the Des Moines Register on Monday, and she doesn’t sound optimistic about the DNR’s likely action in this case:

To regulate greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5, the DNR should require Alliant to perform a “best available control technology” analysis, known as a BACT analysis. The analysis considers all control technologies available on the market, evaluates what would control the pollutants for this type of facility and takes into account the technology already installed to control the pollutant. With that information, the best technology installed is used to set limits. The limits that are set in the permit would result in the best control of that pollutant. Without this analysis, the permits will not control the pollution from particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases at all.

In other words, without the best-available-control-technology analysis, there will be no regulation of the pollutant in the air permit. With no regulation in the air permit, Alliant will be able to spew unlimited amounts of greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5 into the atmosphere.

Currently, the DNR appears to be unwilling to require a best-available-control-technology analysis, asserting rules specifically regulating these pollutants are not in place. The Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club respectfully disagrees. The DNR also maintains that particulate matter 10 – a larger soot particle – is being regulated and, therefore, there is no need to regulate particulate matter 2.5. Although the DNR does control limits on particulate matter 10, particulate matter 2.5 is much smaller in size and a more serious health hazard, but will not necessarily be controlled by the particulate matter 10 limits.

Federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, recent court decisions, and even DNR’s own regulations require regulation of particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases. And yet, it appears the DNR is not going to require a best-available-control-technology analysis for particulate matter 2.5 and for greenhouse gases.

I don’t understand why the DNR would decide against regulating the fine particulate matter produced by this plant, given the proven impact of emissions from coal facilities on public health.

Let’s hope Seaman’s pessimism turns out to be unfounded.

Speaking of the coal plant, I contacted the Iowa Utilities Board to find out whether its chairman, John Norris, plans to serve out his term, which expires in 2011. (His wife Jackie Norris recently accepted an offer to become First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff.) Staff at the Iowa Utilities Board told me Norris has not announced a decision. I will write a separate post for this blog once I hear whether he plans to stay or go.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bleeding Heartland user RF for pointing me to this Des Moines Register article:

Iowa Utilities Board Chairman John Norris, whose wife has been named chief of staff to incoming first lady Michelle Obama, said Monday he is interested in an appointment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norris, a veteran Democratic campaign operative, said he would consider serving on the commission or as chairman of the agency with jurisdiction over electricity sales, wholesale electric rates and other energy sales regulation. […]

“It would be fair to say I’m interested in either FERC chairmanship or a commissioner spot,” Norris said. “There are other things I’m interested in and the transition team is rightly focused on filling Cabinet posts and putting together an administration. I’m respecting their timetable and would consider whatever position in the administration where I can be most helpful.”

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