Environmental groups took what might be their last recourse to reinstate New Jersey into a multistate cap-and-trade initiative: suing the governor.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environment New Jersey filed a lawsuit Wednesday in a state court against Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The groups say Christie's exit from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, was unlawful because it didn't give the public any chance to weigh in.
"The governor acted unilaterally ... We think it's illegal for him to act that way," Matt Elliott of Environment New Jersey told InsideClimate News.
If successful, the lawsuit could force the Christie administration to immediately rejoin RGGI—and then to hold public hearings on the future of the state's participation, if it chooses to drop out again.
It's no secret that wind farms and solar plants have a reliability problem, and that a clear way to conquer that hurdle is to deploy batteries that store power and deliver it to the grid when needed.
But there are two obstacles limiting the success of that solution—the enormous cost and low durability of today's batteries.
Now, engineers at the City University of New York's Energy Institute in Manhattan say they found a fix: a nickel-zinc battery technology that is just as cheap as short-lived, lead-acid batteries and just as long-lasting as lithium-ion batteries, one of the costliest technologies on the market.
"There was a giant hole in the middle" between the top battery types, says Eric McFarland, a chemical engineering professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a consultant for the institute.
The four-year-old Energy Institute is in the midst of launching a company called Urban Electric Power that will commercialize its nickel-zinc battery technology. McFarland says the startup expects to create about 20 local jobs by the end of this year.
The natural gas industry and some allies are working behind the scenes in Washington to block a green building rule that was expected to be a national model for carbon-neutral construction.
The rule, called Fossil Fuel-Generated Energy Consumption Reduction, would zero out fossil-fuel use—coal, fuel oil and natural gas—in all new and renovated federal buildings by 2030.
The natural gas industry says the policy would harm its image as a more environmentally friendly fuel than coal. Proponents of green architecture say the mandate would hasten buildings' energy efficiency nationwide and be a big money-saver. The federal government spends more than $7 billion a year to operate its inventory of 502,000 buildings. Buildings guzzle 40 percent of U.S. energy.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has been crafting the rule over the past year and a half. But now, the House of Representatives is considering halting the effort by choking off federal money needed to complete the rulemaking. The move would need Senate approval.
Officials in Long Island, N.Y., are rebranding a promising yet largely overlooked policy instrument to ramp up the region's solar power capacity.
The initiative uses the same feed-in tariff model that many credit for solar power booms in Germany, France and Spain—only with a different name.
Under the program LIPA pays solar operators a fixed rate of 22 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity they feed back to the grid for 20 years. The goal is to add 50 megawatts of commercial-scale solar energy, enough to power 6,500 homes.
Proponents say feed-in tariffs are key to stoking the clean energy economy, because they help solar and wind compete with conventional fossil fuels, provide private investors with a stable investment environment and create local jobs.
But advocates have struggled to sell the program in the United States—a problem they blame in part on its loaded name.
A high-profile bill in Arizona to abolish sustainability efforts died last week, yet its defeat isn't deterring lawmakers in three other states from still trying to pass related policies into law.
The legislation seeks to outlaw states and their cities from endorsing or implementing the United Nations Agenda 21 principles of sustainable development. The list of 27 nonbinding principles, adopted by countries at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, is meant to guide policies to eradicate poverty and combat climate change, among other environmental threats.
In late March, the Arizona state Senate approved anti-Agenda 21 bill SB 1507, but the measure died on May 3, after House lawmakers failed to bring the legislation to a vote before the legislative session concluded that night.
In total, five states have tried and failed to pass such rules this year, with Arizona's battle being the most well known. Efforts in Alabama, Kansas and Louisiana are still alive.
The New York City Council this week adopted the country's most sweeping green building plan, approving citywide zoning regulations that encourage energy efficiency retrofits and widespread adoption of rooftop solar and wind.
The initiative, called Zone Green, will help the city slash annual energy costs of $15 billion and achieve its goal of trimming global warming emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The city's roughly one million buildings are responsible for almost 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 40 percent for the national average.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative policy group, has helped state lawmakers craft measures aimed at curtailing U.S. EPA air pollution rules, repealing cap and trade and teaching climate skepticism in schools, among many other things.
A future target could be renewable energy mandates, which are on the books in more than half of U.S. states.
"I expect the issue to be discussed at one of our upcoming task force meetings," Todd Wynn of ALEC told InsideClimate News. "Discussions within the task force can, and do, lead to the development of ALEC model bills." Wynn directs the council's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force.
At Rod Stevenson's sprawling country home in Santa Rosa, Calif., in Sonoma County, once-leaky walls and windows are now sealed tight for energy efficiency, and his roof and yard are glittering with two dozen solar panels.
"We expect to save about $10,000 a year," on electricity and heating bills, Stevenson says, a nearly 70 percent drop from last year.
Stevenson, 62, runs a successful, century-old family business that sells construction supplies and materials to control soil erosion in Northern California. But retirement was hanging over him and his wife. "I really wanted to get to the point where we could get our [utility] bill down to virtually nothing," Stevenson recalls.
America's greenhouse gas emissions are headed up again, driven by a recovering economy, federal government data show. The Northeast may be able to buck that trend thanks in part to cap-and-trade, the controversial system for curbing global warming gases that Congress and many state governments scorned in recent years.
According to a recent study, cap-and-trade and other measures to combat climate change and stimulate demand for renewable energy helped 10 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states cut per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide 20 percent faster than the rest of the nation between 2000 and 2009.
"All of these efforts are bearing fruit," Ken Kimmell, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, told InsideClimate News. "We very much expect that that progress will continue," as the economy gains strength, he said.
The United States is winning the global clean energy race—at least in terms of luring investment in developing low-carbon technologies. But China appears to have vaulted past competitors to become the leading engine for green manufacturing jobs.