The Skywriter

Climate news this week: coommittee changes, coal, heating oil efficiency--11/14


Climate news this week: coommittee changes, coal, heating oil efficiency--11/14

As the new Congress gears up for next year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee (a crucial committee for climate legislation) may experience some important changes. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) is planning to challenge Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), the House’s most senior member, for the chairmanship.

Waxman, who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is the No. 2 ranking member of Energy and Commerce and one of the most liberal members of the House. In three decades as a lawmaker, Waxman, 69, has been a leading supporter of universal health care, tobacco regulation and environmental protections.

If Waxman replaces Dingell, he will almost certainly augur in a change in substance as well as style at a critical time for the committee. Health-care legislation, which President-elect Barack Obama has said will be a priority, would go through the committee. In addition, Obama has promised to make energy policy a priority, and he has discussed pushing to promote renewable energy, funneling money into carbon capture and storage projects for coal plants, and drawing up cap-and-trade legislation that would aim to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

Waxman differs with Dingell on issues such as stricter tailpipe-emissions standards for automobiles and tighter controls on carbon emissions from fuels. He is also a vigorous foe of expanding offshore drilling to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Dingell, along with Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), has already drafted large portions of a cap-and-trade bill. In 2006, Waxman introduced his own proposal to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

It was great to hear this week that the EPA is starting to put the lid on American coal consumption. Unfortunately, however, this week we learned that that might not be true for the rest of the world.

Coal, the dirtiest source of fuel, will remain the world's main source of power until 2030 and nuclear will lose market share, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

Expectations of slower economic growth have led the IEA to downgrade its 2030 world electricity demand forecast to 23,141 terawatt hours (TWh), but the share of coal generated power would rise to 44 percent by 2015 from 41 percent in 2006.

It would stay at that level to 2030.

"Globally, coal-based electricity is projected to rise ... to almost 14,600 TWh by 2030, giving rise to significant increases in associated CO2 emissions," the Paris-based agency said in its World Energy Outlook.

Most of the growth was expected in non-OECD countries, such as China, which the IEA expected soon to become the world's biggest electricity consumer. Its demand for power doubled between 2000 and 2006.

An article this week in the Christian Science Monitor reveals that in Britain, a new trend might help consumers cut down on their carbon emissions. Here in the States, however, we appear a little more reticent to disclose our consumer carbon footprint:

Earlier this year, the British supermarket chain Tesco began labeling some of its 70,000 products to reflect the carbon released in the their production, transport, and consumption. The 3,729 store behemoth, the world's fourth-largest retailer, now has 20 carbon-labeled items on its shelves, core items such as orange juice and laundry detergent.

The intent, said Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy, is to educate and empower consumers to make informed decisions about their purchases.

As British consumers grapple with the new labels, retailers in the United States are taking a limited approach.

Right now, "incremental change" is as far as most US companies want to go, says Joel Makower, a sustainability consultant who is also cofounder and executive editor of Greener World Media Inc., in Oakland, Calif.

Most companies don't understand their full environmental impacts, he says.

Those making efforts to examine their carbon footprints often do so without transparency – essential to generating both customer support and supply-chain innovation.

And lastly, this week New York Attorney General Anthony Cuomo announced a $1.9 million dollar plan to help low-income families with the high costs of heating this winter, and to reduce oil consumption. This could be a win for environmental justice AND the climate:

The Oil Efficiency Pilot Program… is the first efficiency initiative in New York to specifically target low-income households that heat with oil. This new program will be administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), expands existing Authority programs to help New York’s neediest use home heating oil more efficiently. Overall, approximately 500 low-income New York households are expected to benefit from the pilot program. This new program will offset the costs of installing high-efficiency furnaces, steam boilers, and household hot water systems, as well as insulation, weatherstripping, and other weatherization features. These oil efficiency measures are expected to save an average household approximately 224 gallons of heating oil per year. The new program will also pay for cost-effective electricity saving measures, such as lighting and refrigeration replacements, with estimated annual savings to average households of 600 kilowatt hours. Through these measures, the new program could save an average household up to $1,000 annually.

The program is also expected to result in substantial clean air benefits, including decreases in smog, acid rain and global warming pollution emissions that are equivalent to taking over 250 cars off the road each year.

That wraps up this week’s climate news. Got any must-read climate news? Share them in the comments!

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