MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-09-20

US Update

20th September 2006

How much longer will the Bush regime resist the overwhelming evidence that its pro-industry politicies are consigning, not just the planet but people and biosphere of the US itself to a climate hell?

According to recent research domestic renewable sources of energy are abundant; another study concludes that implementing existing Clean Energy legislation would create more than half a million new jobs.

Yet, although last year's federal energy bill included $4.5 billion in tax credits for renewable energy and energy efficiency, it earmaked more than half as much again to promote fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Meanie-turned-Greenie governor, the redoutable Arnold Schwarzenegger, is making good his vow that California will become the flagship state in combating global warming. His attorney general has just filed cases against six US and Japanese auto makers, accusing them of harming California's environment and economy.

Another state, Indiana, is embarking on a review of the contribution by its capital city, Indianpolis , to the "urban heat effect". But while concrete/cement, asphalt and brick have been identified as major culprits, so far the authorities do not appear to be significantly reducing the use of these materials.

Last week we reported the degree to which the world's biggest environmental protection agency is failing, under the Bush administration, to perform its obligations. Now another accusation is made that the EPA that it is failing its "environmental justice" obligations by not properly reviewing the impacts of its actions on minority and low-income populations.

These are, of course, usually the first to suffer from the impacts of mining and mineral processing.

U.S. Missing Renewable Energy Opportunities


18th September 2006

Renewable energy technologies are fast becoming economically competitive with fossil fuels, but U.S. federal policy is hampering development of the nation's abundant renewable energy resources, according to a report released Monday by U.S. researchers.

The federal government continues to pour subsidies into oil, gas, coal, and nuclear energy, the report said, and has failed to aggressively shift energy policy to encourage rapid development of renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy sources provide only about 6 percent of total U.S. energy.

Of the nation's total renewable energy production, 90 percent comes from hydroelectric and biomass. Geothermal comprises 6 percent of U.S. renewable energy, with wind making up 2 percent and solar, 1 percent.

"With oil prices soaring, the security risks of petroleum dependence growing, and the environmental costs of today's fuels becoming more apparent, the country faces compelling reasons to put these technologies to use on a larger scale," said the report, which was authored by researchers from the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research group, and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

The report notes that a quarter of U.S. land area has winds powerful enough to generate electricity as cheaply as natural gas and coal. In addition, the solar resources of just seven southwest states could provide 10 times the current electric generating capacity.

U.S. renewable energy policies over the past two decades "have been an ever-changing patchwork," the report said, and "abrupt changes in direction at the state and federal levels have deterred investors and led dozens of companies into bankruptcy."

This means the nation has not taken full advantage of global trends, which see dynamic growth in renewable energy production driving down costs and spurring rapid advances in technologies.

Annual global investment in "new" renewable energy has risen almost six fold since 1995, with cumulative investment over this period nearly $180 billion.

In the past six years, global wind energy generation has more than tripled and solar cell production has risen six-fold. In addition, production of fuel ethanol from crops has more than doubled since 2000 and biodiesel production has expanded nearly four-fold.

But the United States has not kept up with the strong growth in renewables over the past decade and its market share has fallen steadily.

Germany and Spain have taken the lead in wind power, the report said, and Japan and Germany are leading in solar technology. The U.S. share of global production of solar cells slipped from 44 percent in 1996 to 9 percent in 2005. Brazil is the world's largest producer of biofuels, and China has surged ahead in small hydro and solar water heating.

"Time is growing short for the United States to get back in the game and compete for what could be some of the largest new markets of the next few decades," the report said.

Although the federal government has recently boosted biofuel production and extended tax credits for other renewables, the investments still trail similar federal supports for fossil fuels.

The 2005 energy bill included $4.5 billion in tax credits for renewable energy and energy efficiency, but earmarked $6.9 billion for fossil fuels and nuclear power.

The report calls for the federal government to establish a long-term framework for investments and tax credits in renewable energy - current tax credits for wind, solar and geothermal energy development are renewed annually and can be hindered by the legislative process.

It recommends new pricing strategies to make renewable energy more attractive to electricity buyers, further efforts to boost energy efficiency as well as reductions in subsidies for fossil fuels.

The federal government should continue to use its massive purchasing power to build larger markets for renewable energy and should set a long-term targets for renewable energy use, along the lines of the goal to get 25 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025.

"Today's energy system has been shaped by government subsidies and regulatory support," the report said. "The key to a bright American energy future and a new wave of economic activity and innovation is a robust partnership between government and the private sector - providing incentives to jumpstart the new energy industries while minimizing the cost to American taxpayers."

The authors noted that states are increasingly taking the lead on renewable energy issues.

All but four U.S. states now have incentives in place to promote renewable energy. More than a dozen have enacted new renewable energy laws in the past few years, and four states strengthened their targets in 2005.

California gets 31 percent of its electricity from renewable resources - 12 percent of this comes from non-hydro sources such as wind and geothermal energy.

The United States led the world in wind energy installations in 2005 and Texas now has the country's largest collection of wind generators.

Clean Energy Bill Could Create Half a Million Jobs


15th September 2006

Alternative energy legislation sponsored by Democrats in the Senate would create 530,000 jobs, according to a new report released Thursday by the Apollo Alliance. The alliance represents a coalition of national security, labor, environmental, civil rights and business organizations who are working for independence from foreign energy sources.

The Apollo report finds that half would be high paying jobs manufacturing wind turbines, solar panels and energy efficient vehicles. Another 10 percent would be high paying construction jobs as Americans go to work building wind farms, energy efficient homes and businesses, and new transit systems.

The report includes state-specific numbers illustrating that the Clean Energy Development for a Growing Economy Act of 2006 would create jobs in every state. The Clean EDGE Act alone would replace eight percent of the manufacturing jobs lost since 2000 in America, the report shows.

Apollo Alliance President Jerome Ringo said his group has a 10 step national agenda to create energy independence by the year 2015.

"It's time to kick America into high-gear with a modern Apollo plan that sets America free from dangerous, foreign oil, while creating millions of new jobs," said Ringo.

According to the study, California would gain the most, about 53,750 jobs. Other states that could expect large jumps in employment are Texas with 37,560 jobs, Michigan with 29,320 jobs and Pennsylvania with 25,965 jobs.

Senators Hillary Clinton of New York, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Maria Cantwell of Washington, joined the Apollo Alliance on a conference call with reporters Thursday to release the new report on energy independence job creation.

"Americans are looking forward to a future where we buy fuel produced in the Midwest instead of the Middle East," Stabenow said. "We've known for a long time that investing in alternative energy would create thousands of good-paying jobs in Michigan, and this report is further confirmation. These jobs would benefit many parts of Michigan's economy, boosting our manufacturers, farmers, automakers and research centers."

"Investing in new fuel technologies will not only help break our fossil fuel dependence in favor of cleaner, more reliable alternatives, but will also create thousands of new family wage manufacturing jobs," said Cantwell, co-chair of the Apollo Alliance and a member of the Senate Energy Committee.

"This report proves that betting on American ingenuity and technological expertise is far better than continuing to gamble on the future good will of unfriendly Middle East regimes for our energy needs."

The Clean EDGE Act mandates that 25 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2010 be flex-fuel capable, rising to 50 percent by 2020. Flexible fuel vehicles can run on higher blends of biofuels, which helps displace petroleum and provide competition at the gas pump.

A major barrier to using flex fuel vehicles to reduce petroleum consumption is the lack of such refueling stations.

The Clean EDGE Act sets a national goal of installing alternative fuels at 10 percent of American gas stations by 2015. It requires major integrated oil companies that own refueling stations to install alternative fuel pumps.

The federal government is the single largest energy consumer in America. The Clean EDGE Act requires the Federal government reduce its petroleum consumption by 20 percent in five years and 40 percent by 2020, increase its renewable electricity use to 10 percent of total consumption by 2013, and employ advanced, efficient, and renewable technology to help drive innovation and jumpstart markets.

To help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and America's reliance on fossil fuels, the Clean EDGE Act sets a national renewable portfolio standard requiring that 10 percent of all electricity produced in the country come from renewable sources by 2020. Many states have set higher renewable portfolio standards.

View the Apollo Alliance report at:

California Sues Automakers Over Global Warming

OAKLAND, California, (ENS)

20th September 2006

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer today filed a lawsuit against six U.S. and Japanese auto manufacturers, alleging their vehicles' emissions have contributed significantly to global warming and harmed the economy and environment of California.

The suit is the first of its kind in the United States seeking to hold automakers for the damages caused by greenhouse gas emission produced by their vehicles.

"Global warming is causing significant harm to California's environment, economy, agriculture and public health," Lockyer said. "The impacts are already costing millions of dollars and the price tag is increasing."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said the automakers are still reviewing the filing.

Lockyer said that vehicle emissions are the single most rapidly growing source of the carbon emissions contributing to global warming.

"The federal government and automakers have refused to act," he said. "It is time to hold these companies responsible for their contribution to this crisis."

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It names six auto giants as defendants - Chrysler, General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan.

The complaint alleges that under federal and state common law the automakers have created a public nuisance by producing "millions of vehicles that collectively emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide."

It asks the court to hold the defendants liable for damages, including future harm, caused by their ongoing, substantial contribution to the public nuisance of global warming. The complaint states that the automakers produce vehicles that emit a combined 289 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the United States each year.

Those emissions, the complaint alleges, currently account for nearly 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and more than 30 percent in California.

The defendants rank "among the world's largest contributors to global warming and the adverse impacts on California," according to the complaint.

The filings come as California continues to fight the auto industry's attempt to invalidate California's global warming regulations curbing tailpipe emissions.

Lockyer said the Bush administration's inaction on global warming has forced California and other states to take action on their own.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a lawsuit filed by Lockyer, 11 other attorneys general, two cities and major environmental groups challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

EPA Not Fulfilling Environmental Justice Requirements


20th September 2006

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is failing to conduct required reviews to ensure that low-income and minority communities are getting the same environmental protections as other communities, according to a new report by the agency's inspector general.

EPA senior management "has not sufficiently directed program and regional offices to conduct environmental justice reviews" in accordance with a 1994 executive order that mandated such reviews, the inspector general said. "Consequently, the majority of respondents reported their programs or offices have not performed environmental justice reviews."

The executive order, issued by President Bill Clinton, directs agencies to make environmental justice a part of their mission by reviewing the effects of their programs on minority and low-income populations.

The 21-page report was made public Tuesday.

It found that some 60 percent of respondents had not conducted the reviews, the report said, and 87 percent of the agency's programs or offices had not even been asked to do them.

"Until these program and regional offices perform environmental justice reviews, the agency cannot determine whether its programs cause disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations," the report said.

The report recommends the EPA require its program and regional offices identify which programs, policies and activities need environmental justice reviews and require these offices to establish a plan to complete the necessary reviews.

It calls for the agency to ensure that reviews determine whether EPA's actions may have a disproportionately high and adverse health or environmental impact on minorities and low-income populations. In addition, the report recommends each program and regional office develop specific environmental justice review guidance and urges the EPA to designate a responsible office to oversee implementation of its environmental justice efforts.

In response to the findings, the EPA said it has made environmental justice a major part of its work, but agreed that it needs better guidelines and a framework for conducting formal reviews.

Keeping Cities Cool


20th September 2006

When researchers with Indiana State University's Center for Urban and Environmental Change decided to investigate the urban heat effect, the logical first place to investigate was the state capital's, Indianapolis.

The nation's 12th largest city is undergoing changes that center on concrete, asphalt and brick - all materials that contribute to the urban heat effect, retaining heat and not allowing rain water to pass through to the soil beneath.

The investigation is part of an effort by the researchers to examine methods that could help large cities stay just a little bit cooler by planting trees to spread their shading branches over streets and sidewalks.

In the first year of the three-year project, Qihao Weng, associate professor of geography at Indiana State and director of the Center for Urban and Environmental Change, and his students have already begun to look at other metropolitan areas in the United States, including New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; Houston; and a location that might be called an "urban super heat island," Phoenix.

"Satellite images provide global coverage. By using remote-sensing measurements, we can do urban heat detection and monitoring for all major cities in the world," Weng said.

"One of our goals is to apply the methodology we develop here in Indianapolis to other cities."

Weng believes the layout of urban landscapes - from lawns, trees, parks and cemeteries to streets, parking lots and buildings - plays a role in determining the urban heat island effect.

Indianapolis' White River State Park, for example, gently curves along the banks of its namesake. Weng has a theory that such a layout holds the key to reducing the urban heat island effect, even if by just a few degrees.

"Theoretically speaking, a park with a square or rectangular shape is going to generate more heat than a park of the same total area with a circular shape because it has more heat interactions with the surrounding area of impervious surfaces," he said.

Weng contends Indianapolis and Indiana State University are leading the way in conducting such research and developing ways to minimize the effects of urban heat islands.

"We intend to develop a very comprehensive database. Other cities, to my knowledge, haven't developed this kind of comprehensive knowledge," he said. "The city's Park and Recreation Department has collected a tree inventory database, and using that database, combined with our records obtained through field work, we will soon be able to develop a very comprehensive urban land cover database to use in our urban heat island studies and other kinds of urban ecosystems studies in the future."


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