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Elizabeth McGowan's articles

Burgess Amendment Keeps Light Bulb Law Repeal Alive

Rep. Burgess has floated an amendment that — like Rep. Barton's initial measure — would bar the DOE from enforcing 2007 lighting efficiency standards

Jul 14, 2011
Rep. Joe Barton

Update (July 15): The House today approved the amendment from Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) to prohibit the use of funds in a 2012 spending bill from being used to implement lighting efficiency standards Congress enacted in its comprehensive 2007 energy law.

WASHINGTON—Opponents of a proposal to switch off energy-saving progress on lighting technology are still lauding House Republicans for soundly snubbing legislation they refer to as "dim BULB" legislation.

Proponents, however, claim Rep. Joe Barton's measure isn't burned out yet.

To give it another chance at passing, Rep. Michael Burgess, another Texas Republican who also serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, floated a similarly worded amendment Wednesday.

Burgess's amendment, which would limit efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs, would be considered as part of the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill that the House is mulling over. It's one of 12 appropriations bills designed to fund the entire federal government for the fiscal year beginning this October.

If approved, the amendment would bar the Department of Energy from enforcing lighting efficiency standards Congress enacted via an overarching 2007 energy law. It has little chance of surviving a Senate vote.

Representatives are expected to consider the amendment sometime this week, Jim DiPeso, policy director with Republicans for Environmental Protection, told SolveClimate News in an interview.

"They are grasping at straws," DiPeso said about the attempted end run. "It's a tactic that is commonly used, using an appropriations bill as leverage to get the policy you want."

EPA Haze Pollution Deal, First of Its Kind, Awaits Final OK by Federal Judge

The deal puts 18 aging coal plants on a path to being cleaned up or retired; a second haze pact — now in the works — could affect 300 coal facilities

Jul 11, 2011
Grand Canyone haze

WASHINGTON—Back in the winter of 1991, President George H.W. Bush traveled to Arizona to tell operators of a utility to clean up their coal-fired act so visitors could actually distinguish the state's most famous and priceless landmark — the Grand Canyon.

Fast-forward 20 years. Views of the iconic chasm might be a bit less hazy but visibility at 150-plus of the nation's other natural wonders is still limited because of power-plant pollution.

That scenario, however, is expected to begin clearing up soon. It's happening because a handful of conservation organizations have spent decades doggedly prodding, tugging and cajoling the Environmental Protection Agency into meeting its Clean Air Act mandate to collaborate with states to reduce the regional haze that clouds views in 156 national parks and wilderness areas.

A mid-June milestone agreement filed in the U.S. District Court in Colorado requires EPA to oversee plans to curb thousands of tons of air pollution in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming beginning next year. Once the 30-day comment period ends July 15, a federal judge in Colorado is tasked with issuing final approval.

All told, the settlement puts at least 18 aging coal-fired plants — with more than 16,000 megawatts of generating power — on a path to being cleaned up or retired altogether.

Most Americans Want Scientists, Not Politicians, to Lead Climate Debate

The latest results from an ongoing Yale/George Mason study indicate that Americans want experts to explain how human activities are altering the climate

Jul 5, 2011
The melting Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park

WASHINGTON—Americans nationwide still have a quiver full of queries for experts about climate change.

But the content of their questions — and the sources they are likely to trust with answers — vary depending on their level of concern and engagement with the issue.

That's one of the latest conclusions drawn from an ongoing and wide-ranging study that has tracked how each of the "Six Americas" interprets the threats of global warming since the last presidential election. Researchers at Yale and George Mason universities first identified those half dozen separate audiences after their initial autumn 2008 survey.

Results from the latest questionnaire conducted in the spring, the fourth in a series, were released in late June. They indicate that most Americans want those in the know to explain how they can be sure human activities, rather than natural changes in the environment, are altering the climate.

Drilling down deeper, the questions become more nuanced depending on a respondent's "Six Americas" ranking.

For instance, the 39 percent in the "alarmed" and "concerned" categories want to ask what nations could do to curb heat-trapping gases and if there's still time to act. The 50 percent in the "cautious," "doubtful" and "dismissive" sphere want to hear how global warming is caused by human activities. And the remaining 10 percent in the "disengaged" grouping want to learn what harm global warming will cause if it is actually happening.

After Long Battle, EPA to Unveil Rules for Cutting Smog from Coal Plants

Next week's transport rule is aimed at curbing smog and soot at power plants in 30-plus states. Next up: EPA's controversial mercury rule, expected in Nov.

Jul 1, 2011
Gina McCarthy during the hearing on June 30th

Update (July 7): EPA announced on July 7 the finalized Cross State Air Pollution Rule, which will cut hundreds of thousands of tons of smog- and soot-forming emissions from coal-fired power plants in 27 states in the eastern half of the U.S. According to EPA, the rule will result in $280 billion in annual health benefits beginning in 2014, and is projected to cost $800 million annually.

WASHINGTON—While much of the nation fixates on picnics, parades, patriotic music — and perhaps even the Declaration of Independence — on this approaching Fourth of July holiday weekend, Gina McCarthy will be contemplating smog and soot.

She will be dotting the i's and crossing the final t's in preparation for a midweek lifting of the curtain on the Environmental Protection Agency's long-awaited rule designed to protect downwind states from upwind pollution.

"It's time we took action and moved these rules," the assistant administrator at EPA's Office of Air and Radiation told a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee Thursday. She added that after decades of delay, "we do not believe we are rushing to judgment."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety subpanel, organized the hearing to discuss a pair of safeguards the Obama administration crafted after a federal appeals court rejected two previous iterations created under the Bush administration.

As reinvented by Administrator Lisa Jackson's EPA, the two regulations are now known as the Clean Air Transport Rule and the Utility Air Toxics Rule. Final standards for the latter, which the agency will unveil in November, are geared to drastically reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired electricity generators.

House Fast-Tracks Bill to Limit EPA Power Over Mountaintop Coal Removal

A vote is expected next week on bipartisan legislation that would restrict the power of EPA rules covering mountaintop mining, waterways and wetlands

Jun 29, 2011
Mountaintop removal mining in Virginia

WASHINGTON—Conservationists knew that new GOP anti-regulatory muscle in the 112th Congress would be intent on debilitating landmark legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

But they're still taken aback by an attempt to incapacitate the latter in one fell swoop.

Next week, the full House is expected to vote on a fast-moving bipartisan bill that would elbow the federal government aside and elevate the power of state-level rules covering mountaintop-removal mining, waterways and wetlands. Even if it passes, however, the bill isn't expected to gain traction in the Senate.

Reps. Nick Rahall, a Democrat from the coal state of West Virginia where mining is king, and John Mica, a Republican from Florida where water pollution standards are less than well-defined, are swiftly shepherding the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 (H.R. 2018) through their chamber.

Mica, Rahall and 34 other co-sponsors tout their bill as one that will restore a balanced partnership to a law that they say now subjugates state authority.

But none other than the Environmental Protection Agency challenges that conclusion. The agency claims the measure would "significantly undermine EPA's ability to ensure that state water quality standards are adequately protective and meet Clean Water Act requirements."

U.S. Climate Protests Shift to Blocking Keystone XL Pipeline Approval

Bill McKibben and allies say the proposed tar sands pipeline — which was barely on their radar a year ago — could galvanize U.S. action on climate

Jun 27, 2011
Bill McKibben

WASHINGTON—Conservationists are still fuming about President Obama's continued lack of follow-through on his promise to affix solar panels to the White House roof.

For now, however, they're willing to give him a pass on what they recognize would be mostly a symbolic gesture.

But a summons for civil disobedience at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this summer indicates they are unwilling to be anywhere near as lenient about a lightning rod of a proposed pipeline. It's known as the Keystone XL and it could pump millions more barrels of heavy crude from Alberta, Canada's oil sands mines to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast if the federal government greenlights it.

"It was an enormous boost when Obama the candidate told us that the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal on his watch," author and activist Bill McKibben told SolveClimate News in an interview from his Vermont home.

"We remember that he asked his supporters to keep pressuring him so he would do the right things. This is the kind of moment he must have meant. So we're going to try."

The founder of the advocacy organization 350.org collaborated with 10 other Canadian and American like-minded luminaries — including author and farmer Wendell Berry, actor Danny Glover and NASA climate scientist James Hansen — to issue a three-page plea for support.

Historic Anti-Corn Ethanol Amendment Faces Uphill Battle

Almost three-quarters of the Senate approved a measure to end the $6-billion-a-year blenders credit, but its prospects for ultimate passage remain cloudy

Jun 23, 2011
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

WASHINGTON—Deficit hawks have practically turned sharpened scissors into a fashion accessory on Capitol Hill. What's shocking some and delighting others is the unexpected pairings of legislators willing to share a whetstone this congressional session.

Take ethanol subsidies, for instance.

Just a week ago, the Renewable Fuels Association was taken aback and the Environmental Working Group was downright giddy when almost three-quarters of the Senate approved a subsidy-slicing measure co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a liberal-leaning California Democrat, and Sen. Tom Coburn, a debt-obsessed Oklahoma Republican.

Senators agreed to save taxpayers an estimated $6 billion annually by voting overwhelmingly to repeal a tax credit on corn ethanol. What's officially known as the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, the VEETC for short, pays 45 cents for each blended gallon.

"Ethanol is the only industry I know of that receives a triple crown of government support: its use is mandated by law, it enjoys protective tariffs and oil companies receive federal subsidies to use it," Feinstein said. "These flawed policies ... must be changed."

Growth Energy, an organization of ethanol producers, reacted to the 73 to 27 vote with a news release headlined "Senate Votes to Keep OPEC in Charge of U.S. Economy." Meanwhile, the Renewable Fuels Association is adorning city buses in the nation's capital with ads claiming that corn ethanol reduces gas prices by 89 cents per gallon.

House Bill Would Cut Clean Energy and Efficiency Programs by 40 Percent

Appropriations bill puts renewable energy and efficiency funding about $1 billion below current levels, roughly equaling dollars doled out in 2005

Jun 21, 2011
Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.)

WASHINGTON—Even though Republicans have vowed an "all-of-the-above" approach to America's energy future, Democrats are accusing them of clinging to a narrow, antiquated, hydrocarbon-heavy past.

Members of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition are furious about a 2012 energy and water appropriations bill that they claim shortchanges President Obama's efforts at innovation and competition in favor of an addiction to oil, coal and natural gas.

"Now is the worst possible moment to slash funding for the research and development of sustainable energy technologies," coalition member Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said about the $30.6 billion bill that advanced out of the House Appropriations Committee last Wednesday.

"At a time when our economy is already fragile, abandoning scientific research would cause the United States to lose even more high-tech jobs to our foreign competitors."

Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona was the sole Republican who joined 19 Democrats in opposing the bill that passed on a 26-20 vote. The full House will be considering the measure, one of a dozen sweeping federal spending bills, after Independence Day.

On the energy front, this version of the bill snips $1.9 billion from the White House request for investments in energy efficiency research, renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal, fuel-conserving vehicles, weatherization, biomass and other programs. That's more than 40 percent below current funding levels.

New Pressure on U.S. EPA to Delay Final Mercury Rule

A proposed rule to limit mercury from coal-fired power plants took center stage at a divisive Congressional hearing this week

Jun 17, 2011
Lisa Jackson

WASHINGTON—These days, it would be understandable if EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson began channeling the spirit of former Minnesota Democratic Sen. Ed Muskie.

Frustrated with the automobile industry's vehement pushback on compliance with emissions standards in 1977, the chief author of the Clean Air Act told colleagues on the Senate floor: "Give them an inch and they'll take 100,000 miles."

Thirty-four years later, the debate features power companies' emissions, but the sentiments of the continuing federal government vs. private sector tug-of-war remain the same. In a nutshell, utilities resent the Environmental Protection Agency's recent efforts to fashion a host of Clean Air Act updates that dictate when and how to curb a lengthy list of pollutants.

A proposed rule to limit mercury and other air toxics from coal-burning electricity generators took center stage at a divisive Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing Wednesday.

Nebraska Water Scientists Warn of Oil Pipeline's Risk, Call for More Study

A single study by the U.S. Geological Survey in Minnesota is the sole source for what scientists know about crude oil behavior in aquifers

Jun 15, 2011

WASHINGTON—Great Plains states are risking an unknown level of environmental and economic hurt if the U.S. State Department persists in routing a controversial tar sands pipeline atop the Ogallala Aquifer without further study.

That is the scientific warning coming from a pair of University of Nebraska professors with expertise in groundwater flow and contamination.

In a June 6 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (attached below), the two scientists laid out how their state’s fragile sandhills region is particularly vulnerable to crude oil pollution from a pipeline spill and why a research information gap needs to be closed.