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New Poll: Likely 2016 Voters Want Shift to Solar, Wind; Away from Coal, Oil

Posted By Lowell F. on January 16th, 2015

Despite the fossil fuel industry’s well-funded efforts over many years to turn the American public against clean energy, a new poll by Hart Research of likely 2016 voters finds overwhelming support for clean energy.  Check out the graphics below and see for yourself: likely 2016 voters want the federal government to rely more on solar power by a 71-point margin (80%-9%), and to rely more on wind power by a 59-point margin (73%-14%). In stark contrast, those same likely voters want the federal government to rely less on coal by a 34-point margin (55%-21%) and less on oil by a 29-points margin (53%-24%). You can’t much clearer than that.

Also note that likely 2016 voters overwhelmingly do NOT support anti-environmental policies such as weakening protections for our drinking water supplies and clean air; allowing oil and gas drilling in national forests/parks. Again, you can’t get much clearer than that. The question is, what will it take for anti-clean-energy, pro-fossil-fuel members of Congress get the message?

Details of New York State Study Demonstrate Why Fracking’s Too Risky to Be Allowed

Posted By Lowell F. on December 30th, 2014

Over the years, we’ve talked a great deal about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on this blog. For instance, we’ve pointed out that  fracking contaminates water supplies, pollutes the air, uses huge amounts of (increasingly scarce) water, releases the potent greenhouse gas methane, contaminates the soil, destroys forests and wildlife habitats, and even triggers earthquakes. We’ve also pointed out the gap between the facts of fracking and the industry’s “don’t-worry-be-happy” propaganda, while noting the lack of oversight by federal and state authorities, and even cases where government outright did the fracking industry’s bidding — at the public’s expense.

That’s why we were encouraged recently to see New York State move to ban fracking, citing threats to public health and other concerns.  Media coverage of this decision varied in quality, with the Washington Post editorial page definitely falling into the “media fail” category (according to the Post’s flawed reasoning, New York state’s “outright ban is justified only by extreme caution”).  In fact, if the Washington Post editorial board had actually read the report by the New York State Department of Health (see A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development), they might not have made that argument.

In contrast to the Washington Post, we’ve taken some time to look at this thorough, rigorous report, and found it to be a powerful argument for why fracking is a serious risk — one we can and should do without.  Key points from this lengthy (176-page) study include:

  • There’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF): “…the science surrounding HVHF activity is limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation…However, the existing studies also raise substantial questions about whether the risks of HVHF activities are sufficiently understood so that they can be adequately managed…Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health.”
  • Air Impacts of HVHF: “Studies provide evidence of uncontrolled methane leakage, emissions of other volatile organic chemicals, and particulate matter from well pads and natural-gas infrastructure. State authorities in both Texas and Pennsylvania have documented methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure by the use of infrared cameras. A recent West Virginia study also determined that heavy vehicle traffic and trucks idling at well pads were the likely sources of intermittently high dust and benzene concentrations, sometimes observed at distances of at least 625 feet from the center of the well pad…These emissions have the potential to contribute to community odor problems, respiratory health impacts such as asthma exacerbations, and longer-term climate change impacts from methane accumulation in the atmosphere “
  • Water-quality impacts: “Studies have found evidence for underground migration of methane associated with faulty well construction…For example, a recent study identified groundwater contamination clusters that the authors determined were due to gas leakage from intermediate-depth strata through failures of annulus cement, faulty production casings, and underground gas well failure (Darrah, 2014). Shallow methanemigration has the potential to impact private drinking water wells, creating safety concerns due to explosions…Other studies suggest additional sources of potential water contamination, including surface spills and inadequate treatment and disposal of radioactive wastes…A recent review paper presented published data revealing evidence for stray gas contamination, surface water impacts, and the accumulation of radium isotopes in some disposal and spill sites…One recent study also suggests that chemical signals of brine from deep shale formations can potentially be detected in overlying groundwater aquifers…These contaminants have the potential to affect drinking water quality.”
  • Seismic impacts: “Recent evidence from studies in Ohio and Oklahoma suggest that HVHF can contribute to the induction of earthquakes during fracturing…Although the potential public health consequence of these relatively mild earthquakes is unknown, this evidence raises new concerns about this potential HVHF impact.”
  • Community impacts: There are numerous historical examples of the negative impact of rapid and concentrated increases in extractive resource development (e.g., energy, precious metals) resulting in indirect community impacts such as interference with quality-of-life (e.g., noise, odors), overburdened transportation and health infrastructure, and disproportionate increases in social problems, particularly in small isolated rural communities where local governments and infrastructure tend to be unprepared for rapid changes…Similar concerns have been raised in some communities where HVHF activity has increased rapidly.”
  • Health impacts: “One peer-reviewed study and one university report have presented data indicating statistical associations between some birth outcomes (low birth weight and some congenital defects) and residential proximity of the mother to well pads during pregnancy…Proximity to higher-density HVHF well pad development was associated with increased incidence of congenital heart defects and neural-tube defects in one of the studies…Several published reports present data from surveys of health complaints among residents living near HVHF activities. Commonly reported symptoms include skin rash or irritation, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties or cough, nosebleeds, anxiety/stress, headache, dizziness, eye irritation, and throat irritation in people and farm animals within proximity to HVHF natural gas development.”
  • Bottom line: “…the relationships between HVHF environmental impacts and public health are complex and not fully understood. Comprehensive, longterm studies, and in particular longitudinal studies, that could contribute to the understanding of those relationships are either not yet completed or have yet to be initiated…While a guarantee of absolute safety is not possible, an assessment of the risk to public health must be supported by adequate scientific information to determine with confidence that the overall risk is sufficiently low to justify proceeding with HVHF in New York. The current scientific information is insufficient. Furthermore, it is clear from the existing literature and experience that HVHF activity has resulted in environmental impacts that are potentially adverse to public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF and whether the risks can be adequately managed, HVHF should not proceed in New York State.”

In sum, we know that natural gas fracking is harmful and dangerous in a variety of ways, we’re just not sure exactly how harmful it is. Meanwhile, we know that clean energy – solar, wind, energy efficiency, etc. – is safe and economical. Which is why the argument that we should stick with natural gas (as  ”bridge fuel” or whatever), while shortchanging clean energy, makes no sense whatsoever.

Posted in Environment, Fracking
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New Poll Finds Overwhelming Support Nationally for EPA Clean Power Plan

Posted By Lowell F. on December 18th, 2014

New polling by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. finds strong support for the proposed EPA carbon pollution reduction standards (aka, the “Clean Power Plan”). That includes two thirds of voters in important states like Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Louisiana and Virginia.  Support is across the board regionally (two thirds in both northern and southern states) and politically, with majorities of Republicans (53%), Independents (62%) and Democrats (87%) all on board.  So who’s opposed to these pollution reduction standards, other than the fossil fuel industry? Despite all the money they spend to deny climate science and promote fossil fuels, it turns out that only a small minority of the U.S. electorate is with them. So sad.

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Sec. of State John Kerry: “Make a transition towards clean energy the only policy that you’ll accept”

Posted By Lowell F. on December 12th, 2014

The following excerpt from Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech yesterday at the climate talks in Lima, Peru, explains very well that dealing with climate change is a “win-win” situation — maintaining a habitable planet while stimulating enormous economic growth by switching from dirty to clean energy. As Secretary Kerry put it, it’s time to “make a transition towards clean energy the only policy that you’ll accept.” We couldn’t agree more.

In economic terms – bottom line, in economic terms, this is not a choice between bad and worse, not at all. This is a choice between growing or shrinking your economy. And what we don’t hear enough of is the most important news of all, that climate change presents one of the greatest economic opportunities of all time on earth.

I said earlier that the solution to climate change is as clear as the problem. It’s here. The solution is energy policy. Well, let’s take a look at that.

The global energy market of the future is poised to be the largest market the world has ever known. The market which grew the United States of America during the 1990s, when we had unprecedented wealth creation – more wealth creation in America in the 1990s than in the 1920s, when we had no income tax and you’ve heard of the names of Rockefeller and Carnegie and Mellon and so forth – more was created in the 1990s. Every quintile of our income earners went up in their income. Guess what? It was a $1 trillion market with one billion users. It was the computer, high-tech mobile device.

The energy market today is a $6 trillion dollar market with 4 to 5 billion users today, and it’s going to go up to that 9 billion users. By comparison, if you looked at the differential, this is an opportunity to put millions of people to work building the infrastructure, doing the transition, and pulling us back from this brink.

Between now and 2035, investment in the energy sector is expected to reach nearly $17 trillion. And that’s without us giving some of the price signals that we ought to be giving to the marketplace to make this transition. That’s more than the entire GDP of China and India combined. Imagine the opportunities for clean energy innovation. Imagine the businesses that could be launched, the jobs that’d be created, in every corner of the globe.

The only question is are we going to do it fast enough to make the difference. The technology is out there. Make no mistake, it’s out there now. None of this is beyond our capacity… Make a transition towards clean energy the only policy that you’ll accept

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Historic Climate Deal Highlights Extent to Which China is Rapidly Scaling Green Energy

Posted By Lowell F. on November 12th, 2014

One of the best takes I’ve read so far today on the U.S.-China deal to rein in greenhouse gas emissions comes from, not surprisingly, Stephen Lacey at Greentech Media. The headline and subheading of Lacey’s article really say it nicely: “Historic US-China Climate Deal Is a Sign of Clean Energy’s Growing Political Strength: China’s willingness to adopt emissions targets reflects its confidence in non-fossil energy.” That’s right; even as climate change deniers and cleantech bashers love to claim that China is doing nothing, in fact it is moving quickly to scale clean energy. How fast? According to the Washington Post article on this historic breakthrough:

China’s announcement is the culmination of years of change in attitudes among Chinese now fed up with dire levels of pollution that a study in the British medical journal the Lancet blamed for 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone. China has cap-and-trade pilot programs in five provinces and eight cities. It is also the world’s largest investor in solar and wind energy.

Moreover, it has barred coal-plant construction in some regions. Such construction has dropped from more than 90 gigawatts in 2006 to 36.5 gigawatts in 2013, according to the World Resources Institute.

The results of China’s sea change in energy policy are there for everyone to see. As Stephen Lacey explains:

China already has plans to get 50 gigawatts of nuclear, 70 gigawatts of solar, 150 gigawatts of wind and 330 gigawatts of hydro installed in the next few years. The new target, while not groundbreaking, would open up the opportunity for China to support nearly a terawatt of additional nuclear and renewable energy capacity.

Seven years ago, when China became the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, there were few signs that the country would slow its rate of coal-burning. The country is still by far the world’s largest user of coal, accounting for roughly 50 percent of global consumption.

But a confluence of factors has shifted China’s outlook on coal. Domestic backlash against air pollution, growing water scarcity problems, international political pressure and the competitiveness of renewables have all come together to make China more willing to wean itself off coal. In August, China’s coal consumption dropped for the first time in a decade.

One point that can’t be emphasized enough is how dramatically the cost of solar, wind and other renewables has plummeted in recent years. For instance, check out this analysis by Lazard – one of the world’s top financial asset management and advisory firms – which finds that the “levelized cost” of energy efficiency and onshore wind is already lower than for new coal-fired power plants. And, as Lazard illustrates graphically, the costs of wind and solar are on a steep downward trajectory that is expected to continue indefinitely, meaning that the economics of clean energy will only get better and better as time goes by. In turn, that strongly implies a rapid scaling of wind and solar, purely on economic grounds alone, not even factoring in the huge environmental benefits of clean, green energy. Now, the big question is which nation — China? the US? others? — will dominate the enormous market for renewable power in the 21st century?

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