EPA electricity rule reverberates

Reality of Obama’s carbon rule sinks in

In the week since President Obama announced draft rules to cut carbon pollution from electricity production, commentators have piled on to dissect the implications—from the promise of clean-energy jobs (which the EPA says would outweigh losses in the coal industry) and questions of executive-branch authority to the effect the rules may have on the red-blue divide and international climate policy. Economist Paul Krugman examines the ideological underpinnings of the opposition, while The Washington Post highlights a Michigan Senate campaign where the Democratic candidate is embracing the EPA rule, not running from it.

EPA rule built from 50 state targets, not a single national goal

The proposed EPA rule to cut carbon emissions from power plants was built from 50 state-by-state analyses of how much pollution could be reduced using four strategies, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The EPA estimated how much those strategies—more efficient plant operation, fuel-switching, renewable generation, and reducing the demand for electricity—could cut emissions in each state, and built the nationwide goal for 2025 and 2030 from that assessment. Left unexplained is how the EPA decided how hard to push each state—one reason commentators from Harper’s to Business Week are underwhelmed by the president’s target.

Limits on carbon from power generation hit states differently

Some states have already exceeded the composite national goal for cutting CO2 from electricity production—demonstrating those targets are reachable without retarding economic growth. Many of those states are in the Northeast, which set a regional cap on carbon six years ago. The permit auction held last week brought the highest price for CO2 permits yet, just over $5 a ton—a sign that the cap is wringing actual reductions out of the grid beyond what is driven by cheap natural gas. Fortune hailed the Northeast’s cap-and-trade system as a possible model for other regions, including the Northwest. 

A climate activist’s rite of passage with his teenager

Chesapeake Bay climate activist Mike Tidwell traveled to a West Texas wilderness with his teenage son and brought back a tale that blends honest realism about our climate predicament with intergenerational hope and vision. The 15-year-old has grown up watching his dad try to stem the tide of global warming, salved by his father’s assurances that the problem is solvable. Now, Tidwell the elder feels the pangs of loss from ecosystems at risk, while his son sees it from a different perspective. This essay in Orion is the week’s best antidote to climate despair.

No shortcut around emissions cuts for climate protection

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions, not geoengineering or carbon sequestration, is the best approach to stem global warming, according to the first academic study to rank mitigation strategies. The study examined five ways of stabilizing the climate: reducing emissions, biological carbon sequestration, underground carbon storage, increasing cloud cover, and ocean fertilization. Reducing emissions using existing technology was the clear winner, while the geoengineering approaches ranked last. Biological storage of carbon, such as protecting forests that serve as natural carbon sinks, was the runner-up—a strategy whose value was confirmed by a study published last week in Global Change Biology.

Renewable energy report shows green gains, fun facts

Renewable energy is making strides across the world, and especially in large developing countries, according to a report out this week from the Renewable Energy Network. The network—a consortium of trade associations, NGOs, national governments, and multinational bodies—found that renewable power production increased by 8 percent in 2013, and accounted for more than half of electric capacity additions worldwide. Besides providing a wealth of statistics on actual green energy production, the report tracks the policies in place to encourage renewables, which have now spread to 144 countries around the world.

Separated bike lanes make riders feel safer

People are more likely to bike to their destinations if bicycle lanes are separated from motor traffic by solid barriers than if they’re just painted on the street, according to a report from the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. Most residents say these so-called “protected bike lanes”—demarcated with planters or flexible posts, for instance—improve the quality of neighborhood life, even though they can make parking more difficult, says Vox. To drill down into other research on bike lanes, Bicycle Universe provides a helpful summary of research pointing to their pros and cons.

It’s the albedo, stupid

Increased soot and dust are accelerating the melting of Greenland’s glaciers, according to a study published Sunday in Nature Geoscience. Since 2009, these pollutants have made the island’s ice sheets less reflective, leading to episodes of melting (including one in July 2012 triggered by soot from Siberian forest fires), which covered 95 percent of the glaciers in melt water for a week. Global warming also causes earlier snowmelt elsewhere in the hemisphere, lengthening the season when winds loft dust into the air—some of which is deposited on the ice, darkening it and causing it to absorb more sunlight, further warming the planet.

All that glitters isn’t so green after all

Remember the IndieGogo campaign for roads paved with photovoltaic panels, which took social media by storm last month? Finally, a calm assessment of its prospects names several reasons to think twice. The most obvious: pavements tend to be partly shaded and to get dirty—not so great for solar panels. Second, nifty-sounding features such as embedded LED lighting and snow-melting heaters burn up a lot of energy. And finally, glass panels would lose traction with the passage of time and traffic. Maybe the biggest lesson from the virality of “solar freakin’ roadways” is that as motorists, we’re all looking for a way to feel less bad about driving.

Atlanta becomes No. 2 city for electric vehicles

Incentives can have a powerful effect on the cars consumers choose, as shown by the popularity of electric vehicles in Atlanta. The city leapfrogged ahead of Seattle to become the second-largest U.S. market for electric vehicles in the 12 months ending in March, thanks to a $4,000 state tax credit, dirt-cheap electric rates for overnight charging (just 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour), and carpool-lane access for electric cars—and now critics are questioning whether the incentives have gone overboard. Nationwide, auto sales in May reached the highest average fuel economy yet recorded, at 25.6 mpg, a 27 percent improvement over 2007.

Seth Zuckerman's picture

Editor, ClimateCast

, Climate Solutions

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).