Friday, May 28, 2010

(I have been asked to guest blog at, and the post appears at 'The Skywriter'.)

This week brings us to the end of May with progress being made on several major environmental issues. The massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may be plugged soon. Alternatives to oil to power our nation may gain more support as President Obama extends the moratorium on offshore drilling along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and in the Arctic. And the American Power Act introduced by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman two weeks ago may move forward in the Senate.

All eyes are on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 5 weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, killing 11 employees, BP is attempting to plug the gushing well, although we won't know if it's successful for a few more days.

Some high-profile voices spoke out this week against our country's oil addiction. On Monday, it was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"It's been nearly five weeks since oil started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and onto our shores. Millions of gallons, miles of polluted coastline and more than a month later, the consequences of our oil addiction are as clear as the Gulf's waters once were…Weaning ourselves off of oil is a hard fact for us to face. We consume more 20 percent of the world's oil, but produce less than 3 percent of it. It's not a change we can make overnight. But if we don't start, the next disaster could make the current one look like a drop in the bucket. I'm tired of waiting for oil companies to get the message. America needs clean alternatives more urgently than ever."

Jonathan Hiskes at Grist reminded us of findings from 2008 on just how much energy efficiency can save us:

The last time lawmakers truly freaked out about the problem of our oil dependence – when gas prices topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008 – the Senate Energy Committee called in Skip Laitner, director of economic analysis at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The committee asked Laitner what efficiency – the famously unglamorous energy strategy–could do to relieve gas prices. He gave them an astonishing figure: It could save 46 billion barrels of oil. If the U.S. made an all-out investment in energy efficiency-cutting energy waste out of vehicles, buildings, the electrical grid, and elsewhere in the economy–Laitner believes it could save the energy equivalent of 46 billion barrels by 2030.

On Thursday, more big hitters spoke out. Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President at Defenders of Wildlife and former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote on Huffington Post,

...If the catastrophe in the Gulf does not wake us up to the need to wean ourselves off oil and move towards clean, safe renewable energy, I don't know what will. This latest spill is a wake up call to the White House, Congress and frankly all Americans. President Obama and Congress must not expand offshore drilling operations. Our leaders need to lead.

In that light, the Obama administration should immediately reinstate the moratorium on off-shore leasing, expand the moratorium to Alaska's Arctic Ocean, and rescind its approval of exploratory drilling by Shell Oil due to begin in the Arctic in less than 60 days.

Calls for action from Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, and other grassroots organizations were finally heard. Yesterday, President Obama extended the moratorium on off-shore drilling, including the Arctic, for six months!

The President also started pushing for passage of climate and energy legislation. As Senator Kerry said in a post on the Huffington Post Thursday,

So, on the biggest issue we can deal with in this Congress, President Obama just weighed in big-time: "There's been some good work done by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Let's go. Let's not wait. Let's show the American people that in the midst of this crisis, all of us are opening our eyes to what's necessary to fulfill the promise to our children and our grandchildren." That's right – the President is pounding the bully pulpit to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation.

Thank you President Obama! We need you to push this bill forward.

And he and the Senate may have public opinion moving their way. A USA Today/Gallup poll shows:

The catastrophe has boosted concern about the environment over development of new energy supplies – a long-time balancing act in American politics. Now, a majority says protection of the environment should be given priority, "even at the risk of limiting energy supplies."

The 55%-39% divide on that question was a reversal of American views in March, before the April 20 explosion sent crude oil spewing into the gulf. Then, by 50%-43% Americans said development U.S. energy supplies should be given priority, "even if the environment suffers to some extent."

On a similar question, those surveyed divided 50%-43% over whether the environment should be protected "even at the risk of curbing economy growth" or if growth should be given priority, "even if the environment suffers to some extent." That's a big swing from March, too. Then, by 53%-38% Americans chose economic growth as their priority.

Now if only we can educate the public that energy conservation and efficiency, and alternative energy, not domestic oil production, is the best path to energy self-sufficiency for the U.S., then we may be able to accomplish something to address climate change this year. Certainly momentum seems to be swinging our way.

We will continue to follow the Gulf Oil spill and progress with the American Power Act closely. But much has changed in the past week.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I didn't run today.

I didn't run today. I'm a wuss. I was signed up for a 5k with the Evaro Mountain Challenge ('pets must have their owners on leash'), a fund-raiser for the Evaro Community Center. The low last night was 36 (degrees F), and the forecast temperature at noon was 42 with a high of 50 this afternoon. Late this morning here at home in Florence, we had a rain and snow shower, although the temperature was in the upper 40's.
I have been fixated on temperatures and running for quite some time now. I began running after the first of the year, with the initial goal being to run the famous Missoula Half-marathon in July , rated the best overall marathon by Runner's World Magazine in December 2009. It turns out that I had to modify my goals once I got started. I had never run before, and I have some health issues that I have to work around. So I committed to running 5k races in 2010.
And so I did. I ran the Run for The Luck of It in Missoula March 13. I ran the Run for the Trees 5k sponsored by the Missoula Parks and Rec Department on April 3.
But I did not run today. After 2 runs in rain and snow and wind and temperatures in the 30's and 40's I said NO MORE.
I was so happy to find a run in late May. I have finally been running outdoors lately instead of on the treadmill at the gym . It has been warm, the leaves are coming out in force, flowers are feels like spring!
But it's Montana. The date of the last killing frost averages May 25. last year we had a killing frost about June 7. And this is in the 'Banana Belt' of the state...the Bitterroot Valley.
We need the moisture. Snowpack for some mountain ranges (and associated watersheds) is at about 50% of normal. Drought status for the county I live in (Ravalli County) is severe, and for Missoula County (where all my races have been to date (including the one I skipped today) is moderate.
But I can still whine about the local weather, can't I?
I can, and I do. But I am here to tell you that Global Climate Change is occurring. In spite of unusual snowfall in the Northeastern U.S. this past winter, snow cover in North America was the least ever recorded this past winter. In spite of our non-existent spring this year in Montana, last month (April) was the warmest global average temperature on record, and January-April temperatures were the warmest, on average, ever. Snow cover in North America was the least ever recorded this past winter. The year 2010 is predicted to be the warmest year ever.
We are presently consumed, as a nation, by the tragic oil 'spill' (which is too mild a term for what is occurring) in the Gulf of Mexico. The damage to the Gulf, to the Gulf Coast, and to all the wildlife and people who live and work there is massive, unprecedented. And the only known way it will stop is when BP and it's contractors drill a back-up well, slated to be completed in August.
My heart is heavy. The losses are tragic. What can I do?
What I can do, and what you can do too, is call for strong climate change legislation from my Senators. No more off-shore drilling until the kind of safety measures required for such risky undertakings are developed.
Let's bust this myth that we must develop domestic off-shore oil resources for our national security . A 1% added domestic source for our oil needs is not going to help. It's trivial. Let's get out of Big Oil's pockets!
Let's bust this myth that there is such a thing as 'clean coal' within our reach. Geologic Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is so expensive, we couldn't afford the electricity generated using it, even if the technology were available on the scale we need (which it isn't) . And there is mounting evidence that all the geologic sources for storage cannot begin to provide what would be needed for the use of CCS as a solution to burning coal for energy 'cleanly' . Let's get out of Big Coal's pockets!
We need climate change legislation that requires reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and that pushes us to clean, renewable sources of energy. That requires conservation strategies that actually could do some good (in contrast to domestic off-shore drilling, for example, by reducing our energy needs by 7%)!
Let's join in a battle for our energy future against Big Oil and Big Coal...let's fight for our people, and for our land, and for all the creatures who depend on it for their survival.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rural Electric Cooperatives oppose EPA regulation of CO2

Every month, Montanans get their 'Rural Montana' magazine in the mail, complements of their Rural Electric Cooperative. I usually recycle mine without opening it. Fortunately, some of us are paying attention.

Unbeknownst to me, the April issue of 'Rural Montana' had an article opposing EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Luckily, Eric Grimsrud read his mailing, and was compelled to write an op-ed in a local paper taking them to task for their stance.

Grimsrud wrote in The Flathead Beacon (April 16, 2010):

According to the April issue of Rural Montana, the leadership of our national and state electric cooperatives is using its political clout to limit the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in regulating carbon dioxide emissions. For this purpose they will be including stamped post cards in the May issue of Rural Montana and encouraging its readership to send their message on to our congressional representatives.

Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (page 7) set members up for this mailing campaign. His stance is that “the Clean Air Act wasn't intended to deal with carbon dioxide. It was tailored to curb harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which it does effectively.” What hogwash, an incorrect representation of the issue.

The fact is, the EPA is responding to the Supreme Court ruling:

In April the case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 549 U.S. 497 (2007) that the EPA violated the Clean Air act by not regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Of COURSE the EPA can regulate these kinds of emissions. I'd like to remind English that under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has done an outstanding job of regulating emissions responsible for acid rain AND gases threatening the ozone layer. And the Agency is stepping up once again to put a brake on greenhouse gas emissions.

The May issue of 'Rural Montana is out online. In it, Montana Electric Cooperative found another spokesperson, Jason Priest, director of the Montana Growth Network, “an organization dedicated to making Montana more business friendly.”

And, how is this going to be achieved?

Priest prefers private sector solutions to energy issues rather than regulatory action.

Ah, yes. The private sector and voluntary regulation. How's that working out? That's what led to the largest oil disaster in our nation's history, and the (presumed) deaths of 11 workers. That's what led to the mining disasters last month, and the deaths of dozens of miners. Because regulations are so burdensome for business. If BP would have been required to install an automatic shut-off on the well in the Gulf, at the cost of $500,000 (as is required in Norway), they wouldn't have turned a profit? If mining regulations had been followed in West Virginia, Massey Energy would not have been profitable? I don’t think this “voluntary regulation” meme has legs anymore.

I haven't received my May issue of 'Rural Montana' (with postcard insert) in the mail yet. And, like Grimsrud, I need to see what it looks like in order to develop a response. Grimsrud wrote last month:

As I write this, I don’t know what choices the readership of Rural Montana will be given for input to their congressional representatives on the post cards referred to above. If an appropriate selection of choices is not provided, I recommend that something like the following be written on them before sending: “While input from the leadership of the Electric Cooperatives concerning their predicted costs of addressing climate change merits careful consideration, their additional input concerning the EPA’s role in controlling CO2 emissions should be ignored.”

Rural Electric Cooperatives apparently have had a hand in proposed legislation prohibiting the EPA from regulation of greenhouse gases for quite some time. The EPA has a duty to regulate CO2, and now the fight is on as to whether the Congress will allow it.

Originally posted at Daily Kos May 6, 2010

One of the comments on my post at Daily Kos was very informative:

I work for a co-op, in management to boot.I am a very active participant at the regional and national level in NRECA's annual resolutions process. Although on climate change issues, I measure my success in how much less bad I can convince people to make a policy proposal. (On other matters, consumer-ownership and co-op principles, NRECA and the co-ops are good.)

First, regarding EPA regulation of CO2: It should be understood the EPA's move to regulate CO2 based on the Supreme Court decision that they can, has always been intended as a club, a threat, to see if Congress would instead pass meaningful climate change CO2 reduction legislation. So they continue to move ahead at EPA, because Congress....well, they haven't have they? The co-ops would rather have Congress do it if it has to happen.

There is a spectrum of opinion within the leadership of the co-ops across the country, and the NRECA has to straddle that. NRECA national leadership has actually been working for a few years to move the co-ops more to the middle, to be realistic rather than deniers. Still, they end up representing what their membership decides, and it actually is a democratic process.

Within the co-ops, there are a bunch of managers and elected directors who are out & out deniers... There is a minority of people like me. And there's everyone in the middle who recognizes that as part o the utility industry, the co-ops need to do something.

In most states, the co-ops are not regulated by state government because their consumer-owned & governed. So the respond very negatively to any threat of outside regulation regardless of the issue. It should be noted that despite all this, many co-ops around the country are actively developing renewables-- co-ops in the upper midwest have been putting up wind projects pretty big time.


Co-ops nationally are more heavily invested in coal than the industry as a whole although this is definitely not the case across the board. (My co-op is 0% coal.) There are a couple of reasons, one of which is just geography-- a lot of co-ops are where the coal is. The other is public policy--- in the 1970s in response to the first energy crisis and the political desire to say we were lessening our dependence on foreign oil, Congress required that the next generation of generating plants the co-ops needed (which were going to be mostly natural gas) had to be coal instead-- project financing had to be primarily for coal because it was cheap, and American. So no they have literally billions of dollars invested in coal that they can't walk away from, financially. (No investors to take the hit.) So yes, some part of the co-op community are very defensive about their coal.

I work at a co-op where the progressives took over the board in the late 1980s after about ten years of political struggle. I also live in the northeast where the politics of the states and the co-ops members are blue not red. My advice:

Most co-ops with few exceptions really are democratically run. The problem is with who the participants in the democracy are. If you're in a super red area, the co-op will reflect that.

Use the co-op's democratic process. Lobby the board and try to be respectful at the same time. Get people elected, or mount serious campaigns at least. When your co-op uerges it's members to contact your Senator & Congressman, do that, but tell them that you feel differently than the co-op's board-- and let your board know you're doing that.