Saturday, December 31, 2011
For my money, here are the seven most significant U.S. environmental policy strories of the last year.
1. Still no federal climate change policy. While we did see some efforts by states, regions, and even federal agencies to takle greenhouse gas emissions, the fact that we still do not have a federal mechanism to address the problem more broadly is in my opinion the biggest environmental policy story of the year. Global emissions continue to climb, and we have not really left the starting gate to address the most signficant environmental challenge of this generation.
2. EPA's new mercury rule. This is likely to have signficant impacts on a number of the country's most significant polluters, particularly older coal-fired power plants.
3. The Obama Administration's decision to back off revising the ozone standard. The new standards would have meant cleaner air throughout the country and could have incentivized investments in cleaner technologies and pollution reduction. It was an opportunity squandered.
4. Efforts in Congress to cut environmental funding and undo environmental regulations. Due to efforts by those in Congress, environmental funding took a significant hit in 2011. Additionally, Congress ended up successfully attaching a number of anti-envrionment riders to important legislation, including a rider that will delay regulations designed to promote energy efficienct light blubs and another one that will force the Obama Administration to make a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline within the next couple of months.
5. New fuel standards. The new fuel standards for automobiles are set to reduce the country's emissions from cars and trucks by about half by 2025.
6. The Solyndra controversy. Regardless of what one thinks about the merits of the controversy, the fact that there is now a controversy regarding Obama's policies surrounding clean energy and green jobs is significant. Up until this controversy, clean energy and green jobs had little political downside for the Obama Administration. Solyndra changed all of that.
7. Republican presidential candidates targeting EPA and climate change policy. Any candidate who has a realistic chance at becoming the Republican presidential nominee took firm positions criticizing EPA and questioning EPA's attempt to regulate greenhouse gases. Regardless of who wins the nomination, positions taken in 2011 suggest that the stakes are very high for the environment in the 2012 presidential election.
-- Brigham Daniels
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Every Wednesday night, my daughter eats a large piece of fish. That might not seem so amazing, except that Ana is three, and picky even by three-year-old standards, so her weekly slab of cod or haddock is completely out of character. Of course, that weekly out-of-body experience does not come without some parental involvement, and the rules here, which she enforces with ruthless consistency, require that while Ana eats, my wife or I must tell her a story about a girl and a fish. We’re responsible for fleshing out content, but she usually dictates the general plot. It almost invariably involves going out on a boat with her grandfather and her friends, catching a few fish, and eating them for lunch.
And there lies a sad twinge of irony. In Maine, at least, I would never let that story come true. There are fish consumption advisories on almost every freshwater fish in every lake, river, and stream in the state (some ocean fish, like the groundfish we usually buy, contain lower levels). The reason is mercury contamination, much of it carried on the wind from out-of-state power plants.
Thankfully, last week EPA passed new mercury rules for power plants, and thus took a big and long-overdue step toward rectifying that situation. And, predictably, it has been pilloried by industry groups and their Congressional supporters. But to me, this seems beyond reasonable argument. When an activity as common, as traditional—indeed, as culturally ingrained--as catching and eating freshwater fish has been effectively taken away from an entire state (and of course, the impacts aren’t just to Maine), it seems clear, to me at least, that an effective regulatory response is not just economically but also ethically compelled.
EPA’s new rule probably won’t allow Ana to safely eat freshwater fish caught with her grandfather in Maine. Environmental mercury levels take a very long time to decline, and she’s growing up fast. But perhaps one day, when she takes her granddaughter fishing, those fish consumption advisories will seem like tales of the burning Cuyahoga River—exhibits of environmental absurdity from eras past, resolved, thankfully, by the intervention of environmental regulators and environmental law.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Happy Holidays! First, a few holiday-oriented bits of environmental news given the confluence of holidays this week:
* As noted by the Huffington post, an electronics store in Vietnam built a Christmas tree from 2500 unusable cell phones to raise awareness about hazardous waste and environmental responsiblity.
* Rabbi AB Itkin of Chabad of Ulster County lit a solar-powered menorah in Woodstock, New York in celebration of Chanukah.
* Malaysia Youth 4 EcoGreen Coalition (MY4Eco) organized the GoGreen Winter Solstice Celebration, which featured a tang yuan (glutinous rice ball dessert) making session and a catwalk with models wearing clothing made from organic material, in order to raise environmental awareness.
Second, in other non-holiday-oriented news:
* The European Commission unveiled Energy Roadmap 2050, the next step in its plans to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% without disrupting energy supplies and competitiveness.
* The European Court of Justice upheld charging airlines flying in and out of Europe for their carbon emissions.
* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its first national Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
* The U.S. Department of Energy awarded nearly $7 million in research and development funding to help reduce the current costs of electric vehicle chargers by 50 percent over the next three years.
* The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection approved two new solar power projects, the largest commercial projects thus far in the state.