Climate Compass Blog

Building Decathletes Hurdle Barriers to Cleaner Living

This weekend marks the conclusion of the Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy in which 20 college teams from around the world challenge one another in the high jump, pole vault, and other various athletic feats while dressed up as flaming balls of gas.

Okay, that’s not quite right: the Decathlon is indeed a competition among 20 college teams from around the globe, but rather than throwing javelins or jumping hurdles, these students compete to design, build, and run the most energy-efficient solar-powered house they can. Teams spend nearly two years designing and constructing their homes, which are then shipped to D.C., assembled on the Mall, and judged in ten different categories ranging from architectural excellence to market viability to engineering. The ultimate result is that a village of the future sprouts up in the middle of the U.S. capital almost literally overnight, and when the homes are not being judged, visitors are free to stroll through them and learn about their innovative features.

Web Portal Opens Door To Leading Corporate Energy Efficiency Strategies

As energy prices continue to swing and the prospects for carbon constraints grow, it’s no wonder more and more companies are focusing their efforts on energy efficiency. But while most firms recognize the benefits of energy efficiency, many lack the information and resources required to take their efficiency programs to the next level.

To help provide these resources, we have launched a web portal with tools and information to help companies develop stronger energy efficiency strategies. The key feature of the portal is a searchable database of the energy efficiency activities undertaken by the 45 companies in the Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC).

Also included on the web portal are results of our recent survey distributed to 95 major corporations that offer key insights for those exploring best practices in corporate energy efficiency. These include:

  • Firms recognize the energy paradigm is changing rapidly.
  • Companies are responding by establishing corporate-wide energy efficiency targets.
  • Senior management support is critical in the development and implementation of energy efficiency programs.
  • The most common challenge companies face in pursuing efficiency gains are resource constraints, especially limits on capital.
  • Employee engagement is an effective, but possibly underutilized strategy for improving energy efficiency.
  • Energy efficiency can be a gateway to wider business innovation.

The portal and survey are part of a larger research project that seeks to document and communicate best practices in corporate energy efficiency strategies across the following categories: internal operations, the supply chain, products and services, and cross-cutting issues. The next step of the project is the release of a comprehensive report summarizing our findings at a major conference in Chicago, April 6-7, 2010. The project is funded by a three-year, $1.4 million grant from Toyota.

Murkowski Calls for Advanced Energy Technology, Cap and Trade Answers the Call

Sen. Murkowski opened a briefing on Post-Combustion Carbon Capture at the Senate last week by asserting technology is the key to addressing our energy needs. The Senator said that advancing technology will allow the U.S. to move towards a low-carbon future. Sen. Murkowski is correct.

And cap and trade will guide us to just that: advancing technological innovation.  As Sen. Murkowski put it, our current energy technology has an "environmental price," and a clear signal regarding the price of carbon is imperative to spur R&D in technologies with a lower environmental price.  Cap and trade allows the government to set the policy objective – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and businesses to decide how to best achieve the objective in the most cost-effective manner. It will give industry experts exactly what they are seeking: a clear signal that financial incentives exist for low-greenhouse gas technological innovation, whether its carbon capture and sequestration discussed at the briefing, or nuclear, wind, tidal, or other technologies.

Read more about technology policies and their relationship to cap and trade here.

The Kerry-Graham Op-Ed: Toward an All-of-the-Above Energy Policy for Meeting Our Economic, Security & Climate Objectives

Climate action advocates got a jolt Sunday morning from an op-ed written by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in The New York Times. The op-ed sketched out an energy-climate agreement that would combine aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions with expanded nuclear power, more oil and gas drilling off our coasts, border taxes to protect energy-intensive, trade-exposed manufacturers from imports produced without strong environmental protections, and a price collar on GHG allowances (establishing a floor and ceiling for the cost of emission allowances). I can’t think of anybody who won’t hate at least one part of this formula – certainly we at the Pew Center would offer some important tweaks. But Kerry and Graham have posed a tough question: Are we truly ready to hammer out an all-of-the-above energy policy that meets our economic, security and climate objectives?

Before you answer, keep this in mind: there is no partisan option for passing a climate and energy bill in the Senate. In the House, where 256 out of 435 Representatives are Democrats, even when 44 voted against the Waxman-Markey bill (with 8 Republicans voting for it), it passed. In the Senate, we need 60 votes to pass a bill, there are exactly 60 Democrats, and everybody expects at least a handful of them to vote against any serious climate bill, meaning that at least that number of Republicans will have to vote for a bill in order to pass it. The good news is that the Senate has a history of real Republican leadership on the climate issue. Nine current Republican Senators have written, cosponsored, voted for, or spoken in favor of mandatory GHG reductions – for the most part through cap-and-trade, some of them ahead of their time. We know of at least five more who would engage in the crafting of a climate bill if left to their own devices. The bad news is that the mood in the Senate this year has been bitterly and famously partisan.

The Kerry-Graham op-ed is the strongest ray of bipartisan hope we’ve seen on the climate issue this year. It took real guts on the part of both Senators, and it is potentially game changing. No one is going to love all the particulars – but then no one is going to love all the particulars of any climate-energy bill that has a chance of enactment in this Congress.

Manik Roy is Vice President, Federal Government Outreach

How the Senate Divides up the Climate/Energy Issue

In the House, the committee chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has jurisdiction over most matters touched on by the climate/energy bill.  In the Senate, jurisdiction over the bill is divided between six major committees.  This makes things complicated, since Congress does most of its work in its committees.

The House committee’s membership made it an excellent crucible for producing a balanced comprehensive climate and energy bill.  Even with most committee Republicans not involved in the drafting, there was a large enough majority of Democrats (36 out of 59) to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act on Democratic votes alone.  Moreover, committee Democrats were roughly divided between those eager to pass a bill and those more cautious, out of consideration for the bill’s possible impacts on the manufacturing or energy sectors in their districts.  This meant Rep. Waxman had to balance the bill’s economic and environmental objectives just to get it out of committee.

This is not as true with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), the committee largely in charge of writing the GHG cap-and-trade provisions of the bill.  The committee is not quite as regionally diverse as the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  This morning we heard that EPW Chairman Boxer plans to start holding hearings on the Kerry-Boxer bill around mid-November, presumably moving shortly thereafter to a “mark up” (the arcane term for when a committee formally amends and decides whether to pass a bill).  EPW passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2007 and is expected to do so again this year.  Even after it does so, however, it will take a few more twists and turns for the bill to win the support of 60 Senators. 

One option for doing this would be to have all six relevant committees tackle the aspects of the climate issue within their jurisdiction.  Eighty-one of the Senate’s 100 members sit on at least one of these six committees.  A robust committee process could therefore engage a much larger group of Senators than the 19 EPW members.  The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR) did in fact earlier this year pass a major bipartisan energy bill with provisions corresponding with many of the energy measures of the House bill.  The ENR Committee is going to continue exploring the climate issue next Wednesday with a hearing on energy and economic effects of climate change legislation.  Aside from ENR’s bill, however, it is not clear at this point whether all relevant Senate committees will be sitting formally to address the climate aspects of the bill.

Another option would be for key Senators, those especially focused on the bill’s implications for manufacturing, agriculture and energy supply, to rise up outside the committee process and engage in the specifics of the bill.  In fact, several ad hoc groups of moderate Democrats have crafted statements on the factors that would need to be addressed in a climate bill, the use of trade measures, the amount of allowance value needed to prevent carbon leakage, and the treatment of coal, setting a good precedent for their engagement.

Regardless of process by which the Senate at large is engaged, observers expect Senate Majority Leader Reid ultimately to be the one to forge the various inputs into a 60-vote bill – no doubt with major input from the President.  I will write more on this in a later post.

Manik Roy is Vice President, Federal Government Outreach