Climate Compass Blog

Clean Energy Solutions Take Center Stage

Low-Carbon SolutionsAs President Obama called for U.S. leadership in clean energy technology in a speech at MIT Friday, up on Capitol Hill members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) demonstrated how they’re already putting innovative ideas into practice.

At a Clean Technology Showcase, we joined six corporations and fellow USCAP members to present cutting-edge solutions to a low-carbon future. While the displays varied from solar shingles to renewably-sourced swimwear to advanced coal technology, all participants agreed that making these solutions mainstream requires enacting comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Economy-wide federal policies that put a price on carbon and deliver incentives for clean energy development and deployment are today’s big missing ingredient.

Instead of the policy talk more common to Capitol Hill, Friday’s event focused on existing and emerging solutions to our energy and climate concerns. It proved an uplifting view of the opportunities that a clean energy economy can deliver.

Yes We Will(!) Lead the Clean Energy Economy of Tomorrow

This afternoon President Obama delivered an energizing speech to students and faculty of MIT on the need for the United States to draw on its “legacy of innovation” in transitioning to a clean energy future. We are engaged in a “peaceful competition” to develop the technologies that will drive the future global energy economy and he wants to see the U.S. emerge as the winner. The President further declared that in making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we can lead the world in “preventing the worst consequences of climate change."

After citing the ongoing efforts of his Administration on this front, including the $80 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a the “Stimulus Package”) for clean energy, he talked about what’s needed next – comprehensive legislation to transform our energy system.  He noted that this should include sustainable use of biofuels, safe nuclear power, and more use of renewables like wind and solar technology, all while growing the U.S economy. And he applauded Senator Kerry – also in attendance for the speech – for his work with Senator Boxer on their legislation.

Energy Committee Tries to Figure Out to Whom to Pay the Rent

No, Chairman Bingaman isn’t lurking around the Capitol avoiding calls from his landlord.  We’re talking about economic rent.

This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee continued its excellent series of hearings on climate change policy options.  At issue this time was a hearing “on the costs and benefits for energy consumers and energy prices associated with the allocation of greenhouse gas emission allowances.”  Whether or not cap-and-trade programs were more or less transparent and costly than carbon taxes and fees was a topic debate during the hearing, as it has been throughout the series. 

Dr. Denny Ellerman, recently retired senior lecturer at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, kicked off the hearing with some powerful testimony, including thoughts on how different carbon control programs create economic rent.  He offered:

Assuring America Can Ably Adapt

This morning, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing titled “Building US Resilience to Global Warming Impacts.”  The hearing took place just as the Government Accountability Office released a new report finding that US reaction to climate change is happening on an ad hoc basis and is not coordinated among Federal, state, and local agencies.

Given the absence of a coordinated Federal adaptation strategy, we’ve been looking at what the options might be to fill that void.  As the Pew Center’s Steve Seidel stated in his testimony to the Committee, an improved Federal mechanism would begin with each agency developing an adaptation strategic plan to build greater resilience to climate change into its programs and mission.  He pointed to a recent announcement by the Dept. of Interior as an example.   A National Climate Service that can develop and communicate credible and actionable climate scenarios and projections for use in adaptation planning by Federal, state and local governments and the private sector is also needed.

Executive office leadership is critical.  After reviewing other climate-related interagency programs in existence, it’s clear that a national adaptation program needs to be established and chaired or co-chaired by CEQ or the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  To ensure that adaptation is truly “mainstreamed” by the federal government,  CEQ should also update NEPA regulations to require the consideration of adaption needs in all major federal actions.

Michael Tubman is a Congressional Affairs Fellow

Some Daylight for Nuclear Power

The hiatus on nuclear plant construction might be about to end. Renewed interest in nuclear power has been spurred by existing government incentives, and comprehensive climate policy will provide further impetus.

So what does proposed legislation do to promote nuclear power? The energy bill passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (S.1462), the energy and climate bill introduced by Senators Kerry and Boxer (S.1733), and the energy and climate bill passed in the House (H.R. 2454) all include provisions to expand nuclear power generation. Most importantly, the latter two bills include a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program. This will send a long-term price signal to drive investment in low-carbon technologies, including nuclear power, and will make the cost of electricity generated from new nuclear power lower relative to traditional fossil fuel-based generation.