Leaked Documents Describe Plan to Push Climate Change Denial in Schools

February 16, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Leaked documents purportedly from the nonprofit Heartland Institute include efforts to cast doubt on climate science. The site DeSmog Blog received the documents from an anonymous informant calling himself “Heartland Insider.”

The Heartland Institute gave mixed responses to the documents, calling them both “stolen” and “fake,” but only specifically calling one document, titled “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy” a “total fake.”

Nonetheless Think Progress confirmed that two of the main projects mentioned in the documents are real, including an effort to develop curricula for K-12 education that would cast doubt on climate science.

New York Times blogger Andrew Revkin said the Heritage Institute is using a double standard in being outraged about this leak, while celebrating the “Climategate” leak of emails from researchers.

Climate researcher Judith Curry of Georgia Tech—who has been branded a “heretic” by her colleagues for raising questions such whether there’s actually a consensus on climate change—said one of the most interesting things about the Heartland Institute is that it has been “so effective with so little funds.”

Last month, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, directed by well-known climate skeptic Bjørn Lomborg, announced it will shut because the Danish government cut its funding.

New Budget to Boost “Clean Sources” of Energy

With the announcement of the Obama administration’s proposed 2013 budget, the President called again for an end to $40 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas companies over the next decade. However The Hill said this is “largely a political statement” because Congress is unlikely to support the end of these tax breaks.

The budget request calls for doubling the share of electricity from “clean sources.” It would increase funding for renewable energy, nuclear power, and technologies to reduce emissions from coal, including a 29 percent increase for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, bringing its budget to $2.33 billion.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulators approved plans for a new nuclear power plant for the first time in 30 years, to be built in Georgia. Work is proceeding, with hopes of having the reactors—a new type never used in the U.S.—running by 2016, but the plant is encountering opposition.

No Guarantees

The proposed U.S. budget includes no money for the U.S. Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, which gave funding to now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.

Despite the uproar about Solyndra, an audit of the loan guarantee program found that the investments were actually safer than Congress had expected. Nonetheless, the audit recommended changes to loan guarantees to improve management and oversight.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu warned more recipients of loan guarantees may go bust, but that they have always known there are “inherent risks in backing innovative technologies.”

 Feed-In Tariffs’ Fate

Feed-in tariffs and other subsidies for renewable energy are in turmoil as countries rearrange their systems. The U.K. is changing to a dynamic tariff that adjusts as the cost of solar panels falls, to avoid a bubble in installations and ballooning costs for the program.

Germany is expected to cut its solar feed-in tariff—and some analysts said the cuts could be deeper than expected. Two different proposals from the Ministry of the Environment could both hurt the industry; in retaliation, three German states reportedly said they’d block these measures.

Taiwan is also lowering its solar feed-in tariff, and the U.K. is proposing to do the same for small wind turbines.

The United States has lagged behind Europe and East Asia in implementing feed-in tariffs, but two new places in the U.S. are considering starting such programs: the state of Iowa and the city of Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley.

Weather Trumps Turbines

A headline about a new study in the U.K.’s Daily Mail reading “Wind farms can actually INCREASE climate change…” received a lot of attention, but the Guardian argued the claim has now grown into a myth.

The research did show that wind farms could affect microclimates, and there are reasons to think they could have beneficial effects on crops.

But even if turbines can affect microclimates, a new study suggested powerful hurricanes could topple offshore wind farms planned along the United States’ Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


U.S. May Be “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas,” But Shale Gas Rush Is Slowing

February 2, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Following on last week’s State of the Union address that supported hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” in shale gas deposits, President Obama called the U.S. “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas” and unveiled a new proposal to provide tax breaks to boost the use of natural gas as a fuel for trucks.

But the market has a glut of natural gas due to widespread use of the drilling method, pushing prices to their lowest in a decade and deflating the shale gas rush, leading large producers to cut production to try to bring the price up.

The House of Representatives held a hearing on fracking to follow up on a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that found fracturing fluids were the likely cause of contaminated groundwater in Pavilion, Wyo. At the hearing, a filmmaker who made the documentary “Gasland” was arrested for filming without a press credential—an action that Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said was unprecedented.

Meanwhile, the EPA began new tests of groundwater in Dimock, Pa., after becoming aware of data that suggests drinking water contamination near fracking sites.

In Europe, shale gas exploration would be covered by existing regulations on water contamination and use of chemicals, so there is no need for new regulations at this point, a European Commission report said.

Also, the International Energy Agency urged the G20 to put stringent rules on shale gas production, while also planning a workshop to consider ways of easing obstacles to shale gas production around the world, with the aim of producing a “Magna Carta” of rules to guide the industry for years to come.

Shale gas is off to a slow start in Europe, and is unlikely to challenge Russia’s dominance of the natural gas market there anytime soon, argues Foreign Policy‘s Steve LeVine. Exxon announced disappointing results from shale gas wells in Poland, and Bulgaria banned fracking, following the lead of France.

Battery Bankruptcy

In Obama’s State of the Union address last week Obama mentioned battery makers as an example of clean-tech. The next day Ener1—whose subsidiary, EnerDel, makes electric vehicle batteries and received $118 million in green stimulus grant money—filed for bankruptcy.

Some called this a repeat of Solyndra, the solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt, and which Obama had touted as a model cleantech business.

However, many others shot back, pointing out that Ener1 is different in many ways. Ener1 will continue operating during bankruptcy proceedings, rather than shutting down as Solyndra did. Also, Ener1 received widespread support over the past several years, netting a deal with the United States Advanced Battery Consortium and a U.S. Department of Defense research grant, and enjoyed bipartisan support.

Overall, it has been a tough time for electric-car battery makers, with demand for electric vehicles lower than expected. But the future is bright for the sector, argued Bloomberg New Energy Finance, with goals to get a million electric cars on the road within the next several years in both China and the U.S.

Also, the California Air Resources Board mandated that by 2025, roughly one in seven cars sold in the state would have to be plug-in hybrid, electric, or fuel-cell vehicles—a standard that 10 other states may likewise adopt.

Biofuels’ Big Footprint

Some of the most popular biofuels—made from palm oil or soybeans—cause more global warming than regular fossil fuels, and nearly as much as tar sands, according to a European Commission (EC) evaluation of biofuels, which was leaked to Euractiv.

Under the European Union’s 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, for biofuels to count toward the goal of increasing renewable energy, the biofuels must have substantially less emissions than regular gasoline. The EC will use the data on emissions when issuing new legislative proposals on biofuels this spring.

Today’s biofuels have such large emissions in large part because tropical forests are often cleared to grow them—and a new study found that such forests store about 20 percent more carbon than previously thought.

Carbon Labels, Glaciers Disappear

British supermarket chain Tesco pledged in 2007 to label all its products with their carbon footprint, but the company announced it has given up the plan since it proved too difficult, requiring several months of work for each product, and because other companies didn’t follow their lead.

In Chile, a new reason for glacier retreat arose: a thief stole five tons of ice from the Jorge Montt glacier, which he planned to sell as designer ice cubes for cocktails.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


“Crony Capitalism” Alleged Behind Tar Sands Pipeline Review

October 6, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which could carry a diluted form of tar sands from Canada to Texas, has attracted the ire of many environmentalists, including Bill McKibben, who spearheaded protests in front of the White House last month.

This week, McKibben argued the Obama administration is practicing “crony capitalism” and that e-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request imply the State Department—charged with evaluating the pipeline—may have worked closely with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, to help the plan win approval.

The State Department rejected the accusations of bias. In response, the heads of a more than a dozen major environmental groups and other nonprofits called for President Obama to strip the State Department of its authority over the pipeline. Environmental groups also sued to stop the pipeline, saying TransCanada had unlawfully begun preparations in Nebraska for the pipeline, although it is still awaiting approval.

The opposition went more mainstream when a New York Times editorial called for the United States to “Say No to the Keystone XL,” arguing it would not do much to help energy security because much of the oil appears slated for export, and the best bet for long-term job creation is through renewable and alternative energy, rather than building more pipelines.

The European Union appears likely to stymie imports of fuels made from tar sands, through a new fuel quality directive.

Haunting Visit

The Obama administration also came under fire because the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had hired top campaign supporters to help direct loan guarantees and other support for cleantech companies, including $535 million for now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.

Obama was warned before his May 2010 visit to Solyndra, the trip may come back to haunt him because the company was already looking shaky, according to newly released e-mails.

Before a major loan guarantee program ended, the DOE completed $4.75 billion in loan guarantees for four large solar projects, on top of $11.4 billion in loans backed by the program before.

Solar Decline

It’s not just solar companies such as Solyndra that have struggled. Sales of solar panels may drop in 2012, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst and two large solar companies. This runs counter to 15 years of double-digit growth rates, and would be the first time, at least since 1975, that annual installations have fallen.

The U.S. solar industry is headed for a “solar coaster” as key federal subsidies are set to expire.

In Germany, consumers are rushing to install more panels in anticipation of a scheduled drop in the country’s solar subsidies. Chancellor Angela Merkel also said the government may cut the subsidies further.

With a surplus of panels on the market and prices falling, Germany’s plan to shut its nuclear plants may cost the country less than expected, taking away some of the bite of this transition.

Subsidy Backfire

In 2010, the world spent $409 billion subsidizing fossil fuels, up 36 percent from the year before, since policies remained largely unchanged while fossil fuels prices rose, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In industrialized countries, subsidies tend to go to fuel producers, while in developing countries the price to consumers is subsidized as a way to help the poor. However, the vast majority of fossil fuel subsidies go to middle and upper classes, the report found. It also argued the subsidies encourage waste and make prices more volatile, thus backfiring by creating hardship for the poor.

The countries with the biggest subsidies are major oil and gas producers that rely heavily on oil revenue—mostly members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), plus Russia. In 2010, about half the subsidies went toward oil, a quarter toward natural gas, and the remaining quarter toward coal. “The time of cheap energy is over,” said the Executive Director of the IEA, Maria van der Hoeven.

Fighting Denial

Many of the leading Republican candidates for the presidency have, while on the campaign trail, questioned whether climate change is real, or whether people are causing it.

Some Republicans who supported policies to cut emissions in the past have been quiet about this issue recently. But National Journal reports that, behind the scenes, former Republican officials and other insiders are trying to shift the GOP’s focus back to acknowledging climate change is real.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Solar Industry “Darwinism” Weeding Out Weaker Companies

September 8, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which recently filed for bankruptcy, got special treatment from the Obama administration, some have alleged, since the company’s $535 million in federally guaranteed loans had much lower interest rates than those of other green energy companies, according to an investigative report.

The FBI raided Solyndra’s office, although it would not comment on the reason. The company shut without giving notice to its employees and contractors, which many large companies are legally required to do.

However, Lewis Milford of the Clean Energy Group argued critics are inconsistent in highlighting Solyndra’s failure, since there are many examples of failure in government projects—and that a high rate of failure is inevitable in innovative fields. Overall, the Loan Guarantee Program has performed well, and Solyndra’s failure is not a reason to abandon it, Forbes argued.

Solyndra is only one of many solar energy companies around the world struggling recently, due in large part to rising costs of materials and weaker-than-expected demand for panels, which have led to a sharp rise in mergers and acquisitions compared with last year.

Germany has long been a solar powerhouse, but one of its companies—SolarWorld—is also having trouble, and is shutting down factories in Germany and the U.S. and consolidating manufacturing. Another German solar company, Solon, is shutting an Arizona plant and laying off workers.

All this activity “is Darwinism at work in business,” said an executive of manufacturer Abound Solar.

Solar at Scale

Nonetheless, large solar projects are moving ahead. The U.S. has offered a loan guarantee for putting solar panels on military housing, which could double the number of residential rooftop arrays in the country.

With solar panel costs falling, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association said, solar could be competitive with conventional energy within a couple of years in some markets, and across Europe by 2020.

Also, a new projection from the International Energy Agency said in 50 years’ time, solar energy could provide more than half the world’s power.

Spinning up Fresh Debate

Iran joined the list of nuclear countries by connecting its first nuclear power plant to the grid last week, according to the country’s official media.

Also, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran began running upgraded centrifuges. Iran also offered to allow inspectors “full supervision” of its nuclear activities for the next five years, in exchange for lifting sanctions.

Iran has reportedly tested weapons systems, which some experts said cast doubt on Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is limited to producing electricity. But arms expert Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said that without proof, it is too soon to jump to the conclusion Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, in discussions at the United Nations, several countries kept pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment until a monitoring deal is worked out.

Storm Brewing Over Clouds

A paper in the journal Remote Sensing has generated a lot of thunder, since the authors argued their study of clouds suggested the climate is not as sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions as had been thought. But many other experts have poked holes in the study, with one arguing the controversial study’s model fails to conserve energy, so it violates a basic principle of physics. The journal’s editor resigned over the controversy.

Energetic Ghost Town

To test out new energy technologies in conditions between the overly controlled confines of the lab and the all-too-messy real world, a company is planning to erect in New Mexico a 20-square-mile, $200-million “ghost town” outfitted with real buildings—but no people.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.