Mitt Romney has come out strongly against the Obama administration's newest fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks—rules his campaign calls "extreme."
The Republican presidential nominee says that if he takes office next year, he'll consider rolling back the fuel standards, which require car manufacturers to make drastically cleaner and more efficient cars over time.
In June, Romney told The Detroit News that he'd seek "a better way of encouraging fuel economy" than the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements. A campaign spokesperson recently reiterated Romney's opposition, saying that any savings consumers see from CAFE at the pump "will be wiped out by having to pay thousands of dollars more upfront for unproven technology that they may not even want."
But changing the new vehicle rules is easier said than done, according to clean-car and auto experts interviewed by InsideClimate News. While Romney could indeed water down or severely limit the standards, he'd face so many hurdles that it seems unlikely he would choose that path.
The Obama administration's latest efficiency standards for new cars and trucks are expected to dramatically curb America's oil consumption over the next decade. So does that mean the United States won't need to import so much oil from Canada's tar sands region?
Oil experts with two environmental groups say the answer to that question is yes.
"The federal [efficiency] standards are one more nail in the tar sands coffin," said Michael Marx, who directs the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign. He said other "nails" include increased production of U.S. shale oil, accelerated development of electric-vehicle batteries, and existing and proposed rules in California, Oregon and Washington that would slash global warming emissions in transportation fuels.
Luke Tonachel, senior vehicles analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said the new rules "show that America can avoid the costly impacts of importing high-carbon oil derived from Canadian tar sands."
But other energy experts interviewed by InsideClimate News say that despite our reduced oil needs, Canadian imports will continue rising and the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline will still be needed.
A federal carbon cap-and-trade program is dead for the foreseeable future. So is a once promising national clean energy standard.
With climate policy paralyzed in Washington, a number of leading U.S. corporations are going it alone, squeezing big reductions of climate-changing emissions from their operations and supply chains. With stakeholder criticism and other pressures building, more and more are also releasing rigorous climate data in their financial reports and enlisting third-party firms to make sure it is accurate.
"We do it because it makes good business sense—whether it's top of the fold [politically] or not," said Wayne Balta, vice president of corporate environmental affairs and product safety at IBM.
A group of young Republicans has set out to achieve what some might say is an impossible goal: Over the next two years they'll try to persuade their party to craft and support legislation that would reform the nation’s energy system and set a path toward a future free of fossil fuels.
"We want to show conservatives that this truly is an issue that affects us, affects our families and our businesses," said Michele Combs, a 45-year-old legislative consultant who founded the group. (Paragraph includes correction, 09/05/2012).
The organization—Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, or YCER—joins a small but growing number of like-minded groups and individuals who hope to revive a voice that has been lost in the Republican Party, one that's focused on curbing, not expanding, fossil fuel production. (Paragraph includes correction, 09/05/2012).
At last week's GOP convention in Florida, the Evangelical Environment Network teamed with the Florida Wildlife Federation to buy billboard ads touting prominent Republicans' concerns about climate change, including Ohio Governor John Kasich. In July, a group called the Energy and Enterprise Initiative was formed to bring Republicans and libertarians together to find free-market solutions to the climate change problem. Former Rep. Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican, is heading the initiative out of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.
While Mitt Romney is getting a lot of attention for vowing to end a government tax credit for wind energy, his gubernatorial successor in Massachusetts is quietly taking steps to stimulate massive investment in wind farms across New England.
Late last month, Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick proposed the country's first regional bidding process for renewable installations, called the regional Request for Proposals (RFP). The other five New England states agreed to sign on to the plan. The program is intended to make wind power decisively cheaper and could become a model for other U.S. regions.
Starting in late 2013, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont will together solicit proposals from developers of utility-scale wind and other clean power projects. By doing so, the states will attract a larger pool of projects than they would on their own, producing more competitive prices. They're expected to sign final contracts with developers sometime in 2015.
Seth Kaplan, vice president for policy and climate advocacy at the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group, likened the regional RFP to bulk shopping. "Instead of buying your renewable energy in very small bags at the 7-Eleven, New England is headed toward Costco, the volume discounts."
New York City's triangular-shaped buildings are notorious for being problematic sites for solar panels. Starting this fall, one five-story Brooklyn complex will defy that notion—by generating more solar power than it uses and becoming one of the city's greenest structures.
The building, the $700,000 Delta project, straddles the corner of Hamilton Avenue and 9th Street in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood. When it officially opens in September, the Delta will triple as a bed and breakfast, Philly cheesesteak shop and showcase for green building technologies. It is expected to influence carbon-neutral and net-zero energy construction in dense urban environments nationwide.
A law in New Jersey requiring more use of solar power was approved with virtually no opposition—which speaks to the growing importance of solar to the state's economy, according to industry experts.
Late last month, Gov. Chris Christie, a popular Republican party figure, signed into law a bill that aims to break the state's boom-bust solar cycle by tweaking its broken incentives program. The move could double its 800 megawatts of solar capacity by 2014.
Christie's signing of S-1925 comes as Congressional Republicans and conservative groups ramp up opposition and ad campaigns attacking Pres. Obama's support for clean energy—especially for solar, in the wake of the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a recipient of federal loan guarantees. The governor's move was heralded by some as a sign of him breaking with his party on clean energy policy.
But solar energy advocates say Christie hardly had a choice, because the economics of the state's solar industry have become too compelling to turn away from.
Marco Mangelsdorf thought he made a smart move early this year when he bought nearly 300 solar panels from a manufacturer in China rather than from the United States.
The modest $54,000 purchase was expected to help his customers save 50 percent on their solar systems. Mangelsdorf's company ProVision Solar engineers and installs rooftop solar on homes and businesses in Hawaii.
"I'm beating myself up," he says now.
Last month, Mangelsdorf had to fork over approximately $140,000 to U.S. Customs and Border Protection on that order—the result of a May ruling by U.S. trade officials to slap tariffs on Chinese solar imports that have shipped since February. That's nearly two and a half times what he paid Ori Solar Limited, the Chinese manufacturer, for the panels.
Cap and trade is long dead in the United States, a victim of shifting political winds, fierce oil industry opposition and a weak economy.
Or is it?
Congress and a dozen Midwest and Western states abandoned plans for such programs during the past three years. That's left California and nine Northeast states alone in their embrace of the scheme, which sets a ceiling on CO2 emissions and allows polluters to meet it by buying permits in auctions—and sends hundreds of millions of dollars into state coffers.
With many states in financial trouble—and with evidence building that cap and trade can bolster a new revenue stream and create jobs—some states are starting to take a second look.
In interviews with InsideClimate News, economists, analysts and state officials say that conversations on the topic are generally taking place quietly and under the radar in a few governors' offices and in state legislatures, where both Democrats and Republicans dominate.
One sweltering summer in the 1950s, Denny Doyle, then a small boy in Chicago, had his first lesson in environmental consciousness. An invasive species from the Atlantic Ocean migrated to Lake Michigan through a manmade canal, devastating local fish populations and washing ashore.
"It made the beaches less than pleasant, and mom refused to take us," he recalls. "It was a real eye-opener."
Doyle credits that with helping him to "start thinking about the world and the impact people have."