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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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Scientists to Gov. McAuliffe: EPA’s Clean Power Plan a Great Opportunity for Virginia

Posted By Lowell F. on November 10th, 2014

I received the following press release earlier today and thought it was well worth passing along. On a related note, I just finished reading Virginia Climate Fever, which makes abundantly clear what’s at stake for Virginia – and other states – if we don’t take strong action quickly to transition from carbon-based energy to solar, wind, efficiency, etc.

Richmond, VA – Today, 15 climate scientists from top universities across the Commonwealth are urging Governor Terry McAuliffe to address climate change impacts on Virginia’s economy and health by meeting the carbon reduction targets under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The scientists, who have offered to meet with the Governor, also write that reducing fossil fuels combined with energy efficiency would create jobs, diversify Virginia’s energy supply and revitalize the state’s flagging economy. In addition, Virginia’s efficiency and renewables goals alone, if achieved, would satisfy the Commonwealth’s obligation under EPA’s Clean Power Plan.


“Surveys show that most people in Virginia correctly understand that climate change is happening, and that it is already causing our weather to become more extreme,” said Dr. Edward Maibach, Director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. “They are beginning to understand that climate change isn’t just a problem for people in the future, it is our problem, here and now, and we need to make good decisions about how best to deal with it.”


Projections in recent reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this month and the National Climate Assessment in May have starkly laid out how humans are driving climate change and what’s at stake for Virginia and the United States as a whole if we do not reduce carbon pollution. Both reports show that Virginia communities face flooding, particularly in areas such as Newport News, from rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, ocean acidification coupled with periods of drought and heavy rain.


“The changes are happening here and now—sea level rising, hotter and drier weather for longer periods of time, intense rainfall events—that trend will continue and increase and it demands action,” said Dr. James L. Kinter III, Director of the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies and Professor of Climate Dynamics at George Mason University. “We look forward to being a resource for Governor McAuliffe and the Commonwealth in developing strategies to address the threats climate change represents to our society, our health and our economy.”

Please see letter below.

Governor Terry McAuliffe

1111 East Broad Street

Richmond, VA 23219

Dear Governor McAuliffe,

We, the undersigned scientists and academicians of Virginia, representing a broad range of disciplines, write this letter to convey the importance of addressing climate change, fully utilizing the tools at your administration’s disposal in your single term. One of these tools is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

As you know, humans are negatively affecting the climate in the United States and worldwide.  This fact was just reaffirmed by the UN IPCC Synthesis Report on November 2, 2014.  The impacts in Virginia include rising sea levels (perhaps three feet or more by 2100), ocean acidification that adversely affects fisheries, increases in the heaviest rainfalls, more weather extremes, more frequent and severe droughts, and potentially more intense hurricanes and intensified tornado patterns.

These expected changes will impact our state. With its diverse economy and proximity to the coast, Virginia is particularly vulnerable.  The changing climate will also affect human health.  Heat-stress is a danger to humans that leads to increases in cardiac arrests and lowered worker productivity. Increased temperatures also threaten the respiratory health of Virginians by increasing ground-level pollution and allergens.

Increased frequent flooding impacts building structures and degrades indoor air quality through enhanced mold growth. Finally, our warming climate presents added risks to vector-borne diseases and water-borne illness. Simply put, Virginia’s economy and residents are vulnerable to climate change.

But with peril comes opportunity: by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, you can create jobs, diversify our energy supply and revitalize our state’s flagging economy.


Embracing the targets for emissions reductions in the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a great opportunity for you to accomplish this in your single term, particularly if cleaning up energy production is combined with reducing energy consumption through more efficiency. Indeed, transforming the state’s economy while also being a national leader in clean energy and energy-efficient technology is already within reach: the state’s efficiency and renewables goals alone, if achieved, would satisfy the State’s obligation under the proposed rule.


We offer ourselves and our expertise to your office.  The undersigned are able and willing to meet with you – to provide current and accurate information so that informed decisions can be made. Only with accurate information can your office, and the Commonwealth, chart a wise path in the coming years and decades.


We call on you to embrace this opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, diversify our energy supply, increase our energy efficiency and revitalize our state’s flagging economy.

With Regards,

Dr. Andres Clarens, University of Virginia

Dr. Steve Cox, Virginia Tech

Dr. Howard Epstein, University of Virginia

Dr. Purusottam Jena, Virginia Commonwealth University

Dr. William Keene, University of Virginia

Dr. Jim Kinter, George Mason University

Dr. Deborah Lawrence, University of Virginia

Dr. John Little, Virginia Tech

Dr. Garrick Louis, University of Virginia

Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, George Mason University

Dr. Ed Maibach, George Mason University

Dr. Linsey Marr, Virginia Tech

Dr. Karen McGlathery, University of Virginia

Dr. Jennie Moody, University of Virginia

Dr. Hans-Peter Plag, Old Dominion University

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Message to Washington’s “Very Serious People” Regarding Tom Steyer’s Climate, Clean Energy Efforts

Posted By Lowell F. on October 27th, 2014

Next time Washington’s VSPs (“Very Serious People”) say that Tom Steyer hasn’t successfully focused on climate change and energy, they should read this.

….even if Dems lose the Senate, there may be one bright spot: Liberals may have made a bit of headway in forcing climate change on to the national agenda.

In the Senate race that may have focused more than any other on climate change — in Michigan — the Democrat appears on track for a sizable win. And today’s New York Times has a great piece detailing the surprising degree to which the environment and climate have emerged as issues in multiple Senate campaigns

The mere act of injecting climate into the political dialogue — even if it doesn’t have much of an impact this year — is itself a step forward. And the issue could matter in the coming presidential race. For one thing, climate change is a priority for the constituencies that are increasingly important to the new coalition that fueled Obama’s popular vote win in the last two presidential elections — and among which Republicans will need to broaden their appeal. A recent Pew poll found that huge majorities of young voters, nonwhites, and college educated whites believe there is solid evidence of global warming.

Speaking of polling, this post lists a slew of polling indicating strong, majority support support among Americans for slashing carbon pollution from power plants, “even if it meant their energy expenses would rise.” Does this have anything to do with the fact that Tom Steyer’s group is spending enormous sums on climate ads, specifically in key presidential swing states like Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Michigan?” Perhaps Steyer’s ads are also capitalizing on Americans’ support for a transition off of dirty, polluting energy? Either way, it’s great news, and Steyer deserves a serious round of applause, and a hearty “thank you!”, for his efforts.

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Oil Change International: Single Subsidy to Tar Sands Costs Taxpayers $610 Million per Year

Posted By Lowell F. on October 16th, 2014

Oil Change International (OCI) has been doing superb work in recent months, detailing the damage done by taxpayer-funded subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. For instance, in Subsidy Spotlight: Paid to Pollute and Poison, OCI reports that “federal and state subsidies to the oil, gas, and coal industries result in a $21 billion windfall for carbon polluting companies every year,” and that “risky drilling projects like those undertaken by BP would most likely never occur without this type of corporate welfare.”

Another OCI report focuses on subsidized fracking, and how “this experiment of exposing people to toxics released by natural gas development would not occur without billions in subsidies from the federal and state governments.” Also see OCI’s “Cashing In On Carbon: How Taxpayer Dollars Greenwash Dirty Energy,” which argues that “[t]hrough grants, tax breaks, and loan guarantees, the public is paying the financial costs––while shouldering the consequences––of re-shaping the carbon cycle to justify the continued use of dirty fuels and dangerous methods under the auspices of mitigating climate change.” In short, taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are harming the environment and people’s health, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

Now, OCI is out with yet another example of the tremendous cost of fossil fuel subsidies and the damage they do, with the article “Subsidy Spotlight: Paying the Price of Tar Sands Expansion.” The focus of this piece is the subsidies supporting upgrades to refineries, which allow them to more easily (and profitably) process tar sands, and also the adverse health impact that dirty tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”) have on communities. Here’s a short excerpt, but we most definitely recommend that you read the entire article, as this is a terrific piece of journalism.

In December 2013, after six years of community pushback, court battles, Environmental Protection Agency citations, and ongoing construction in spite of it all, BP’s $4.2 billion retrofitted facility came fully online.

It was now a tar sands refinery, capable of refining 350,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil per day. And it was paid for, in large part, by U.S. taxpayers.

A little-known tax break allows companies to write-off half of the cost of new equipment for refining tar sands and shale oil. According to a report by Oil Change International, this subsidy had a potential value to oil companies (and cost to taxpayers) of $610 million in 2013.

Tar sands are petroleum deposits made up of bitumen mixed in with sand, water and clay. Their production is extremely destructive at every stage: from strip mining indigenous lands in Canada, to disastrous accidents along transportation routes, to dangerous emission levels produced by refining the heavy crude, to the hazards imposed on communities saddled with tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”), and finally to the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere when the end product is used for fuel.

Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the U.S. on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense––in every sense of the word––of American taxpayers.

Last but not least, if you’re interested in helping “put an end to fossil fuel subsidies and extreme energy extraction,” please click here.

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Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe Invited to Join People’s Climate March on Sunday

Posted By Lowell F. on September 19th, 2014

The following letter has been sent to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, inviting him to join with tens of thousands of others in New York City this Sunday for the People’s Climate March.

September 18, 2014

The Honorable Terry McAuliffe
Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

Dear Governor McAuliffe:

As you are well aware, climate change is a crisis that requires urgent and effective action. Earlier this year, the authoritative National Climate Assessment (NCA) found “unambiguous” evidence that human activities – particularly the burning of coal, oil and natural gas – are causing climate change. And, although it might feel cool and pleasant in Virginia right now, according to data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, last month was the hottest ever recorded worldwide.  Clearly, with the threat of surging seas on the Virginia coast, stronger storms, more intense heat waves, and many other problems, this is an issue we no longer have the luxury of ignoring.

Fortunately, we are starting to see action. In June, as you know, the Environmental Protection Agency issued much-needed draft rules on carbon pollution, rules that will require Virginia and other states to develop compliance plans in coming months. This represents a tremendous economic opportunity for states like Virginia, with its abundant offshore wind resources, and tremendous opportunities for energy efficiency, distributed solar power and cleantech innovation generally. We presume that we are preaching to the converted on this, as your own 2009 gubernatorial campaign’s energy plan laid out a vision for requiring Virginia power companies to generate 25% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. The fact is, from a business and economic perspective, this is a win-win-win proposition for Virginia and for the country as a whole. As your friend, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recently argued, ”If we come together to make the hard choices, the smart investment in infrastructure, technology and environmental protection, America can be the clean energy superpower for the 21st century.” We couldn’t agree more.

In addition to action by government agencies and politicians, we are also excited to see a powerful grassroots movement pushing for immediate action to combat global warming. A superb example of this will take place on Sunday, September 21 in New York City, with the largest climate march in history — tens of thousands of people participating in the People’s Climate March. This historic event will include representatives from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, the Virginia Tech University Environmental Coalition, the Sierra Club, 350.org, and many others.

Given that you will be in New York this weekend, we invite you to join us at the march. You can show true leadership and add your voice as we demand immediate, strong action to combat climate change. As Hillary Clinton explained earlier this month, global warming constitutes “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.”  She’s absolutely right, of course. Now it’s time for action.

Thank you very much.

Best,

350 Loudoun
Alliance for Progressive Values
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
Climate Action Society at the University of Virginia
Coalition for Smarter Growth
eNRG – Energizing Renewable Growth in Holston Valley
Environment Virginia
Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions
James Madison University Earth Club
Organizing for Action VA
Old Dominion University EcoReps
Old Dominion University Social Entrepreneurs Council
Old Dominion Environmental Health and Safety Department
Our Task, Inc.
People’s Climate March Students of the College of William and Mary
Piedmont Environmental Council
Sierra Club Mt Vernon Group
Sierra Club Shenandoah Group
Sierra Club Virginia Chapter
Sierra Club Great Falls Group
Sierra Club York River Group
VCU Environmental Coalition
Virginia Organizing
Virginia Student Environmental Coalition
Wild Virginia

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