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Regional Climate Pact’s Lesson: Avoid Big Giveaways to Industry

Keith Schneider, Yale Environment 360
As Congress struggles over a bill to limit carbon emissions, a cap-and-trade program is already operating in 10 Northeastern states. But the regional project’s mixed success offers a cautionary warning to U.S. lawmakers on how to proceed.
by keith schneider

As the U.S. Congress struggles to craft a bill that puts a cap and a price on carbon emissions, much of the legislative back and forth concerns the cost and consequences of limiting carbon pollution. What’s not being discussed, though, is whether the government has the experience and technical capacity to administer a cap-and-trade program, and whether it can work.

Based on a fledgling project in the northeastern United States, the answer to both questions is “Yes” — provided the federal legislation does not repeat the chief mistake of the regional program: Weakening the program’s clout by making too many concessions to industry.

Keith Schneider, a former national correspondent and regular contributor to the New York Times, is director of communications at the Apollo Alliance, a clean energy/jobs advocacy group based in San Francisco. Schneider recently traveled to Australia to report on the drought for Circle of Blue, a multi-media Web site that covers global water issues. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, he has written about President Obama’s plans to use green energy to help drive a financial recovery and about Australia’s record-setting heat waves and drought.
(21 May 2009)

Raising The CAFE standard will increase driving
Rolf E. Westgard, Minneapolis Star Tribune
It won’t have the desired effect

To much applause, President Obama has called for cars to average 39 miles per gallon by 2016, thus cutting the cost per mile for drivers (Star Tribune, May 20).

But we will respond with more of those cheaper car trips — increasing traffic and creating extra gas-guzzling traffic jams. Demand for ethanol supplements, with their lower energy-content-reducing mpg, will drop. Between now and 2016, we will spend big money on new rail systems like Central Corridor and North Star. But with driving cheaper in our new high-mileage cars, the incentive to board buses and trains declines.

Public transit works in Europe and Japan because high gasoline taxes make driving more expensive. To quote Pete Seeger, “When will we ever learn?”

(22 May 2009)

Green Camo: Seeing Through the Military’s New Environmentalism

Bryan Farrell, WIN Magazine (War Resisters League)
As the single largest consumer of energy in the world, the U.S. military is poised at the center of two of the most life-altering issues of our time: climate change and the height of oil production (“peak oil”). Surprisingly, the Pentagon began taking both matters seriously much sooner than the rest of government, which still has its fair share of skeptics.

A 2007 Pentagon-funded report by 11 high-level retired officers concluded that climate change is a “serious threat to America’s national security.” A few weeks later, another Pentagon-commissioned report called on the military to “fundamentally transform” its assumptions about energy because the current strategy of global engagement with highly energy consumptive technologies is “unsustainable in the long term.”

Before the antiwar movement rejoices in the end of U.S. hegemony and environmentalists celebrate the move toward sustainability, it’s important to remember that the Pentagon is still developing solutions to these issues and in the world of warfare things often don’t get fixed until they are first completely destroyed (e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan).

At first glance it would appear that the Pentagon is serious about reducing its dependency on oil, if not its greenhouse gas emissions. In the two years since those reports came out, the Pentagon has pledged to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. It’s already leading the way among all other government agencies with nearly 12 percent of all Department of Defense (DoD) electricity coming from renewable sources. In fact, the Air Force is the number-one consumer of renewable energy in the United States and has built the world’s largest solar photovoltaic system at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada. Meanwhile, the Navy operates the largest wind/diesel hybrid plant in the world—located in, of all places, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
(22 May 2009)
Also at Common Dreams.

Looking at ‘spoiled’ Americans through an energy lens

Corydon Ireland, Harvard News Office
In 1968, the United States was exporting oil. A decade later, given massive increases in domestic demand, it was importing half of this coveted fuel.

By June 1979 this dramatic change — from supplier to buyer — created an oil shock that rolled across the nation.

By the Fourth of July, high prices and low supplies had spawned a national disaster. Members of Congress, facing long gas lines and short tempers, were afraid to go home.

Historian Meg Jacobs, a Radcliffe Fellow this year, is using the lens of this energy crisis to examine governance in a conservative era. In particular, she is looking at how leaders from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush have reconciled their anti-government ideologies with the demands of actually governing.

Jacobs, who teaches 20th century American history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shared her research in a lecture last week (May 13) at the Radcliffe Gymnasium.

Her forthcoming book, “Panic at the Pump,” uses energy policy as a central metaphor in a history of America’s presumed drift to the right over the past decades.
(21 May 2009)