Business & Innovation
22 Aug 2012:
New Canadian Law Removes
Federal Oversight From Smaller Projects
Major revisions to Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act have stripped nearly 500 projects of federal oversight
in British Columbia alone, including major dam projects, gravel extraction operations, and the sinking of former warships as artificial reefs, according to a news report. The new screening assessments, the latest in a series of initiatives by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration seen as weakening environmental regulation
, give an increased role in environmental oversight and enforcement to provinces. Speaking to the Vancouver Sun
, a spokesperson for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said that the “numerous small, routine projects… posed little or no risk to the environment.” But Canadian environmental advocates warn that a reduced federal role in monitoring these hundreds of projects will ultimately place the province’s environment, particularly fish habitat, at increased risk. “The cumulative impacts of all the projects that they will no longer review will be great and it will take a few years for Canadians to appreciate that,” said Otto Langer, a former official with the federal fisheries department.
22 Aug 2012:
Solar Shingles Made from
Common Metals Offer Cheaper Energy Option
U.S. scientists say that emerging photovoltaic technologies will enable the production of solar shingles made from abundantly available elements
rather than rare-earth metals, an innovation that would make solar
energy cheaper and more sustainable. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, a team of researchers described advances in solar cells made with abundant metals, such as copper and zinc. While the market already offers solar shingles that convert the sun’s energy into electricity, producers typically must use elements that are scarce and expensive, such as indium and gallium. According to Harry A. Atwater, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, recent tests suggest that materials like zinc phosphide and copper oxide could be capable of producing electricity at prices competitive with coal-fired power plants within two decades. With China accounting for more than 90 percent of the world’s rare-earth supplies, companies and nations are racing to find new sources of rare earth minerals, which are used in everything from solar panels to smart phones.
21 Aug 2012:
Cloud Brightening Scheme
Should Be Tested Over Oceans, Scientists Say
An international group of scientists has urged a small-scale experiment to test the viability of creating human-made clouds
as a way to counter the effects of global warming. Writing in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
, the scientists say
there should at least be a scientific debate over the possibilities of so-called cloud brightening, a process that involves sending particles, in this case sea water, into the atmosphere to create clouds that would, theoretically, reflect a greater amount of sunlight back into space. While ethical and political questions remain about such geoengineering schemes, that is no reason to not test the technology, said Rob Wood, a University of Washington physicist and one of the paper’s authors. In the paper, the scientists suggest a small-scale test in which salt water is sprayed from a ship or barge followed by airborne measurements of the physical and chemical characteristics of the resulting clouds.
20 Aug 2012:
Process Turns Starbucks’ Waste
Into Ingredients for Consumer Products
A team of scientists is working with the Starbucks coffee chain to develop a bio-refinery process that would convert the company’s discarded coffee grounds and day-old bakery goods into a key ingredient for making plastics and other products. The process, which will be described at a meeting of the American Chemical Society
, builds on existing technology that converts corn, sugar cane, and other plant-based products into the ingredients for biofuels and other consumer products. According to researchers, the process involves blending the bakery waste with a mixture of fungi that breaks down carbohydrates in the food into simple sugars. They are ultimately converted into succinic acid, a material that can be used to make a range of products, including plastics, detergents, and medicines. While most experts say using crops for such purposes would not be sustainable, targeting food waste is an attractive alternative, said Carol S. K. Lin, of the City University of Hong Kong, who was leader of the research team.
20 Aug 2012:
German Shift from Nuclear
Triggers an Increase in Coal Burning
The German government’s decision to phase out all of the nation’s nuclear power plants following the 2011 Fukushima disaster has led to an increase in coal-burning
within Europe’s largest economy. Coal consumption in Germany has grown by 4.9 percent since Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to shift away from nuclear power over the next decade, according to a Bloomberg News report. While German leaders intended the new policy to strengthen the nation’s reliance on renewable energy
, Germany’s largest utilities have built coal plants instead of cleaner-burning natural gas projects because coal plants are cheaper. The collapse of the European Union's carbon permit costs also means that there is little penalty for burning coal. “Angela Merkel’s policy has created an incentive structure which has the effect of partially replacing nuclear with coal, the dirtiest fuel that’s responsible for much of the growth in the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions since 1990,” Dieter Helm, an energy policy professor at the University of Oxford told Bloomberg News
17 Aug 2012:
TransCanada Begins Building
Southern Leg of Keystone Pipeline in Texas
The Canadian company, TransCanada, has begun construction on the U.S. leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline
, installing segments in east Texas even as the fate of the pipeline’s northern leg remains in question. Company officials confirmed that work began Aug. 9 on the section of the pipeline that will run from Oklahoma to Texas, just weeks after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the final construction permit. TransCanada, which ultimately hopes to build a pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas, has agreed to relocate the northern section of the pipeline after the Obama administration, citing possible threats to Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region, rejected a permit for the entire project. If U.S. officials approve the revised northern section of the pipeline, construction could begin in early 2013, a company spokesman said. Pipeline opponents have already launched protests
at construction sites in Texas, and say they will stage future demonstrations in an effort to block the pipeline.
16 Aug 2012:
Large Utah Tar Sands Mine
A Threat to Water Supplies, Groups Say
Two environmental organizations are fighting a Canadian company’s plan to mine a massive reserve of oil sands in eastern Utah, saying the project would tax water supplies in what is already the U.S.’s second-driest state
. In what would be the U.S.'s first large-scale oil sands mining operation, Calgary-based U.S. Oil Sands Inc. has already excavated a two-acre test mine at site called PR Spring and ultimately hopes to establish a sprawling, 6,000-acre mine as early as 2014. According to the Utah Geological Survey, about 25 billion barrels of bitumen are buried on state and federal land in this region — enough to meet the nation’s oil needs for more than three years. But according to a report by Inside Climate News
, it remains unclear whether there will be enough groundwater to support the industry long-term — not to mention the water needs of municipalities and private industries nearby. Two groups, Living Rivers and the Western Resource Advocates, are appealing U.S. Oil Sands’ mining permit, arguing that the state of Utah ignored the threat to groundwater supplies. According to a letter from the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, the mine is expected to use “116 gallons of water per minute on a 24-hour basis.”
15 Aug 2012:
Belo Monte Dam Halted By
Brazilian Judge Over Lack of Consultation
A Brazilian judge has ordered a suspension of the controversial Belo Monte dam project, saying that local indigenous people who will be affected by the massive hydroelectric project were not sufficiently consulted
Illustration of the Belo Monte proposal
during the environmental assessment process. In a ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Souza Prudente of the Federal Tribunal of Brazil’s Amazon region found that no consultations were held with local communities
before Congress approved what would be the world’s third-largest dam project. The $16 billion project, which is expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of energy, would flood 260 square miles of rainforest in Brazil’s Para state and displace more than 20,000 people
who depend on free-flowing rivers for their livelihoods. “Legislators can only give the go-ahead if the indigenous communities agree with the project,” Prudente wrote. The developer of the project, Norte Energia, will be fined $250,000 per day
if construction on the project continues. The company says it will appeal the decision.
Watch an e360 video report
14 Aug 2012:
Interior Department Unveils
Drilling Plan for Alaska Petroleum Reserve
A proposed management plan for the U.S.’s National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) would allow new drilling on half of the 23 million-acre reserve
while placing the rest of it off-limits to oil and gas exploration. The plan, unveiled by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
, also would not preclude construction of a pipeline on the reserve. Salazar said the plan, which was praised by environmental groups but criticized by oil industry officials, would strike a balance between the nation’s energy needs and the protection of wildlife and native Alaskan subsistence culture. “This will provide a road map to help facilitate the transition from leasing and cautious exploration to production and smart development,” he told reporters in Anchorage, Alaska
. The reserve, located west of oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, is the home to a some of the largest caribou populations on the planet and millions of migratory birds from around the world
. The region is also estimated to contain 549 million barrels of recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Oil companies have been exploring the the reserve in recent years, but full production was suspended pending the Interior Department’s plan.
13 Aug 2012:
Auto-Related Pollution in L.A.
Declined 98 Percent Over 50 Years
Levels of some automobile-related pollutants in Los Angeles have plummeted by 98 percent since the 1960s
, even as gasoline consumption nearly tripled during the same period, a new study says. Levels of volatile organic
compounds (VOCs), which are emitted from the tailpipes of cars and are a key ingredient in ground-level smog, have dropped steadily and fell by about half between 2002 and 2010, researchers found. “The reason is simple: Cars are getting cleaner,” said Carsten Warneke, a researcher at the University of Colorado and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research
. Using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and California air quality measurements, the scientists calculated that VOC levels declined by an average of 7.5 percent per year. Researchers attributed the steep decline to the required use of catalytic converters, introduction of fuels less prone to evaporate, and improved engine efficiency.
10 Aug 2012:
U.S. Wind Energy Capacity
Equal to 11 Nuclear Plants, Group Says
Electricity produced by wind energy in the U.S. now equals the output of 11 nuclear power plants
, according to a new report from the American Wind Energy
Association, a trade organization. As congressional leaders consider the extension of a tax credit for the emerging wind energy sector, the AWEA says that a surge in wind projects since 2008 has pushed the sector past 50,000 megawatts,
enough electricity for 13 million homes — or all the residences in Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama, and Connecticut combined. Wind energy advocates say a critical factor in that growth has been the Production Tax Credit, set to expire this year, which allows wind farm operators a credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity they produce. This week in Iowa, where many farmers receive tens of thousands of dollars annually for keeping wind turbines on their land, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has faced criticism for his opposition to extending the tax credit
07 Aug 2012:
Dozens of Small Earthquakes
Detected Near Texas Drilling Sites
A new study by researchers at the University of Texas has found that dozens of small earthquakes occurred in a shale region of north Texas within a two-year period, with many occurring close to injection wells associated with oil and gas drilling projects. In an analysis of seismic data, study author Cliff Frohlich found that 68 earthquakes had occurred between November 2009 and September 2011
— all with a relatively weak magnitude of 3 or lower — in the Barnett Shale region, a large area that covers several Texas counties and contains a geological formation increasingly targeted for extraction of oil and gas from shale formations. According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, 23 of those quakes occurred within two miles of high-volume injection wells
that pump wastewater from controversial hydrofracturing drilling technology deep underground. “You can’t prove that any one earthquake was caused by an injection well,” Frolich said. “But it’s obvious that wells are enhancing the probability that earthquakes will occur.”
06 Aug 2012:
California Meets 20 Percent
of Electricity Demand With Clean Energy
California power utilities are now achieving more than 20 percent of the state’s electricity needs with renewable energy sources, state regulators say. In its latest quarterly report
, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said that the state met 20.6 percent of its
electricity demand with renewable sources — including wind, solar, and geothermal — during 2011, up from 17 percent in 2010. In 2012, the report says, the state is on pace to far surpass that level. According to the CPUC report, 2,871 megawatts of energy capacity from clean sources has been added statewide since ambitious clean energy standards were enacted in 2003, and another 3,000 megawatts are expected to be added during 2012. A dozen utility-scale solar photovoltaic plants, with a combined capacity of 2,200 megawatts, are currently being built in California
, while another 62 plants totaling 11,600 megawatts of capacity are being developed. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires that 20 percent of electricity sold to customers be generated from renewable sources from 2011 to 2013; the target increases to 33 percent by 2020.
01 Aug 2012:
Historic Blackouts Reveal
Troubling Holes in India’s Power Network
The historic blackouts that left more than 670 million people in India without electricity this week revealed profound problems with a power network struggling to keep pace with one of the world’s fastest growing economies, experts say. While it’s unclear what specifically triggered this week’s massive grid failures, which knocked out power in 20 Indian states
, government officials accused several northern states of drawing more power from the grid
than their allocated amounts. Another factor may have been increased electricity usage caused by unusually high water pumping for irrigation as a result of weak monsoon rains. Experts say the blackouts reveal a fundamental gap between supply and demand in a nation that aspires to be a global economic leader. While India has increased its power capacity more than 35 percent in the last five years, a peak-hour electricity shortfall of about 10 percent exists
and hundreds of millions of people in rural areas have no access to electricity. As much as two-thirds of India’s electricity comes from the burning of coal and some plants are struggling to meet demand because of a coal shortage.
31 Jul 2012:
U.S. Meat Producers Call for
Pause in Ethanol Quotas in Wake of Drought
U.S. meat, poultry, and dairy producers are urging the Obama administration to suspend a quota for corn-based ethanol production, warning that the renewable fuels standard could trigger a food crisis as a prolonged
drought pushes corn and soybean prices to record levels. In a letter sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a coalition that includes the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council asked for a one-year waiver on federal ethanol quotas
, saying that the ongoing drought in the U.S. Midwest has slashed the amount of corn available to feed livestock and poultry. The current renewable fuels standard would require that 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol be produced in 2012 and 13.8 billion gallons in 2013. In 2012, the meat producers say, those quotas would consume nearly 40 percent of all U.S.-produced corn. “The extraordinary and disastrous circumstances created for livestock and poultry producers by the ongoing drought in the heart of our grain growing regions requires that all relevant measures of relief be explored
,” the letter said.
26 Jul 2012:
Pulling Carbon From Air
Should Be Pursued Despite Costs, Study Says
Columbia University scientists say that technologies to extract carbon dioxide from the air will likely become a critical part of any strategy to stabilize the global climate and should not be abandoned because of high costs
. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, the researchers from the university’s Earth Institute argue that the use of technologies to remove emissions at the source — such as at coal-powered plants — will not go far enough because they don’t address the transportation sector, which accounts for up to half of global CO2 emissions. In addition, the scientists say that the shift to renewable energy sources will likely not occur fast enough. Technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale — such as forests of artificial trees or the use of absorbent liquids that extract CO2
— could help avert potentially dangerous warming. While the costs will likely be high at first, the paper said, they will come down as the technologies are more widely deployed. “The field of carbon sequestration as a community is too timid when it comes to new ideas,” said Klaus Lackner, lead author of the paper.
23 Jul 2012:
Some University Fracking Studies
Funded by Industry Groups, Report Says
Several university-led studies that have downplayed concerns about the controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing have been funded in part by drilling companies themselves, Bloomberg News reports
. Bloomberg cited, for example, a 2009 report published by Pennsylvania State University predicting that drilling companies would shun projects in that state if required to pay a 5 percent tax on drilling revenues. But researchers did not disclose that their study had been funded in part by a $100,000 grant from a drilling industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. A University of Texas researcher who found no evidence of groundwater contamination from fracking received more than $400,000 from a Texas fracking company, Bloomberg said. And a study from the State University of New York at Buffalo concluding that regulations have helped curb the environmental impacts of fracking did not acknowledge extensive industry ties. “It’s a growing problem across academia,” Mark Partridge, a professor of rural-urban policy at the Ohio State University, told Bloomberg. “Universities are so short of money, professors are under a lot of pressure to raise research funding in any manner possible.”
17 Jul 2012:
Severe Drought in U.S.
Is The Worst Dry Spell Since 1956
The U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) says that 55 percent of the Lower 48 states suffered from moderate to extreme drought in June, the largest area affected by drought since 1956.
With searing heat and drought conditions only intensifying in July, corn and soybean crops in the U.S. Midwest are suffering badly
, threatening to increase food and fuel prices and cut food aid and grain exports from the world’s top producer of key crops. “We’re moving from a crisis to a horror story,” said Purdue University agronomist Tony Vyn. “I see an increasing number of fields that will produce zero grain.” The current drought now covers a larger area than the famous 1936 drought, although other droughts in the Dust Bowl years — particularly the extreme drought of 1934 — still rank higher, the NCDC said in a report.
Several years of drought in the mid-1950s were also worse than the current dry spell, which is the sixth most severe drought since the U.S. began keeping records in 1895.
16 Jul 2012:
Warmer Ocean Waters
Lead To a Glut of Lobsters in Maine
Warmer Atlantic Ocean temperatures off the coast of Maine have caused the state’s bountiful supply of lobsters to shed their shells and come onto the market six weeks earlier than normal, creating a glut that has driven prices sharply down.
The state’s 5,000 lobster fishermen are receiving less than $3-per-pound at the dock for their catch, which is below the $4-per-pound break-even point. As a result, many lobsterman have stopped fishing and are waiting for the oversupply of lobster to ease before heading back out on the water. An extremely mild winter and spring in New England has increased ocean temperatures, which in turn has caused Maine’s lobsters to shed their shells far earlier than normal. The abundance of so-called soft-shelled lobsters led to the largest lobster harvest on record in June, state officials said. The warmer temperatures also caused a boom in lobsters in Canada, which has exacerbated the glut. Soft-shelled lobsters are more difficult to ship out of state than hard-shelled ones, meaning Maine’s processing plants are overflowing with the crustacean, causing prices to plummet.
12 Jul 2012:
Mountain Roads Trigger
Longterm Consequences in Southeast Asia
The rapid expansion of roads across the rural mountains of Southeast Asia often triggers unintended environmental consequences
that in many cases
Roy C. Sidle
Logging roads in Myanmar
undermine the socioeconomic benefits, according to an article in the journal Nature Geoscience
. While international organizations have supported “aggressive” efforts to expand road networks to increase agricultural development, trade, and tourism in remote regions, poorly designed mountain roads can cause landslides, soil erosion, and increased deforestation, write researchers Roy Sidle and Alan Ziegler. An increase in road density has been “directly linked to drastic transformation, or even elimination, of traditional shifting cultivation methods (as practiced in rural uplands) and have been implicated in deforestation and land exploitation in remote regions,” they note. Without proper drainage systems, these roads can destabilize hillside and soil erosion, degrading water quality, aquatic habitats, and agricultural productivity.
11 Jul 2012:
New European Auto Standards
Would Cut CO2 Emissions By One Third
The European Union has introduced strict new auto emissions standards
that officials say would cut carbon dioxide emissions by a third by 2020. The new standard, which must be approved by all member states and the
European Parliament, would require that new passenger cars emit no more than 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, compared with 130 grams today, and 147 grams per kilometer for vans. Connie Hedegaard, the European commission’s climate chief, said the new standards would help European automakers compete with foreign manufacturers and cut fuel costs for consumers. According to EU estimates, the average driver would save about €340 in fuel during the first year, and between €2,900 and €3,800 during the lifetime of the vehicle. In addition, the EU predicts it would save about 160 million tons of imported oil. Greenpeace officials, however, called the plan too weak
, saying that, among other loopholes, it allows manufacturers to continue producing heavy-emitting vehicles in return for building zero-emitting electric cars, regardless of how many electric vehicles are sold.
09 Jul 2012:
Aquaculture Output To Rise
33 Percent Over Next Decade, UN Says
The global aquaculture sector could produce 33 percent more fish for human consumption over the next decade
, an increase in production that will help feed a growing world population even as fisheries are overexploited, a new UN report predicts. More than 79 million tons of farmed fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic plants are expected to be produced from 2012 to 2012, a 33 percent growth compared with just a 3 percent growth from capture fisheries, according to the report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization
. By 2018, the amount of fish raised in aquaculture will exceed the amount caught in the wild for the first time and will account for 52 percent of the total by 2021, the report states. This increased reliance on farm-raised fish comes as an increasing number of fisheries worldwide are exploited, with about 30 percent of fish stock now overexploited and another 57 percent fully exploited or very close to maximum sustainable production.
05 Jul 2012:
U.S.’s Largest Solar Factory
Halted in Face of Dropping Prices
General Electric has halted construction of what would have been the largest solar factory in the U.S.
due to the falling price of photovoltaic modules globally and says it will focus instead on developing the next generation of cadmium-telluride thin-film technologies for the developers of solar plants. Construction of the 400-megawatt factory in Aurora, Colo, which had been announced after GE purchased Primestar Solar in April 2011, will be put on hold for at least 18 months, company officials say. While the thin-film panels are less efficient than conventional silicon panels, they had emerged as a popular option for large utilities since they can be built at a cheaper cost, particularly when silicon prices are high. But with a steep drop in silicon prices and increased solar production in China, the price of conventional solar modules has dropped roughly 50 percent in recent months. “Given those dynamics… we’re focusing our efforts on developing the next generation of [cadmium-telluride] module technology so we can reach higher efficiency levels and a more competitive cost position,” Danielle Merfield, GE’s general manager for solar technologies, told Forbes
Living Building Challenge Aims to
Revolutionize Green Architecture
In the world of green architecture, no project has more stringent design criteria than the Living Building Challenge
, a rigorous certification system that requires that structures follow 20 design “imperatives” across seven categories, from water and energy use to social
Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab
equity and beauty. While the better-known LEED standards pre-certify buildings based on conformance of design specifications with best practices, the Living Building Challenge also judges buildings on actual performance, requiring a documented 12-month occupancy phase. Projects must also prove that they exclude 14 banned materials
, including halogenated flame retardants and PVC plastics, through supplier audits for every product used in construction. Since its inception in 2006,the challenge has fully certified only three buildings
and partially certified two others, raising questions of whether it will have real-world impact. But program director Amanda Sturgeon says the project’s standards are already pushing architecture and design to be more progressive, sustainable, and accountable. “When teams start to ask their suppliers for every ingredient of every product, the message moves up the chain,” she says.
28 Jun 2012:
Cities in U.S. Northwest
Adopt Aggressive Recycling Programs
Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, Ore., have all adopted stringent recycling programs that have generally been embraced by citizens in these progressive cities and have significantly reduced the amount of garbage going to landfills
. The New York Times
reports that Portland has cut the amount of garbage going to landfills by 44 percent by recycling a wide range of materials, including food scraps, and collecting garbage only twice a month. San Francisco, which has adopted even more aggressive recycling initiatives, now reuses 78 percent of what enters its waste stream, compared with the national average of 34 percent. This summer, Seattle is opening a mammoth new waste transfer station that will enable it to sort through and recycle a large portion of its garbage, the Times
reports. With citizens in these relatively small cities — all with populations under 800,000 — pushing for a zero-waste policy, Seattle says that by 2018 it will even provide some neighborhoods with containers to recycle dog and cat waste, turning the excrement into power using anaerobic digests.
27 Jun 2012:
Foreign ‘Land Grabs’
Scooping up Key Agricultural Lands
From 2000 to 2010, foreign investors bought or leased roughly 270,000 square miles of prime agricultural land
, most of it in the developing world, according to a report by the Worldwatch Institute. Half of the land was
in Africa, acquired by investors from China, the Middle East, and other countries and regions, Worldwatch said. Although the pace of what Worldwatch called “land grabs” has slowed somewhat in the last several years, private investors and state-owned companies are still buying and leasing land in the developing world to ensure ample food supplies for citizens of land-poor countries.
Worldwatch said the land deals generally took two forms: “South-South regionalism,” in which emerging economies invest in nearby countries, and North-South deals in which wealthy countries with little arable land buy up land in low-income nations. The report said the land deals usually resulted in the displacement of small-scale agriculture for industrial agriculture operations that have more serious environmental impacts.
Video: Belo Monte Dam Controversy
The Belo Monte dam, now under construction in the Amazon, is heralded as a much-needed power source for Brazil’s burgeoning economy. But critics contend the project’s benefits are outweighed by the environmental and social costs — the flooding of 260 square miles of rainforest and the displacement of more than 20,000 people. In a Yale Environment 360
video report, multimedia journalist Charles Lyons explores both sides of this controversial project.
Watch the video
22 Jun 2012:
Senate Farm Bill Curtails
Subsidies But Increases Crop Insurance
The U.S. Senate yesterday passed a new farm bill that cuts direct subsidies to farmers yet significantly increases the nation’s crop insurance program
. The legislation, which passed by a vote of 64 to 35, would cut about $23.6 billion from current federal spending through the elimination of crop subsidies to U.S.
farmers, cuts in conservation funding, and reductions in food stamp spending for the nation’s poor. Overall, the package would cost about $1 trillion over the next decade. The legislation would end a two-decade program that pays $5 billion to U.S. farmers and investors annually, whether they raise crops or not. It would instead make the $5-billion crop insurance program the principle safety net for U.S. farmers when crop prices decline, although for the first time it would impose a cap on the insurance and recipients would be required to follow soil and water conservation mandates. While Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook said the legislation adds critical reforms to crop insurance program, he said the bill “needlessly cuts vital nutrition and conservation funding, threatening a decade of environmental progress
.” Analysts say the legislation is unlikely to pass the U.S. House of Representatives without significant revisions.
20 Jun 2012:
Growth of Renewables
Is Being Underestimated, Reports Say
While renewable energy sources still provide a small portion of the world's power needs, several new reports suggest the global community may be
underestimating the growth potential for the green energy sector. The Washington Post
cited studies showing that global solar generation nearly doubled in 2011, with consumers using more than 55 terawatt-hours of solar power, compared with about 30 terawatt-hours in 2010. According to one analyst
, solar energy has the potential to provide nearly 10 percent of global electricity by 2018 if current trends continue, although growth in recent years has been largely driven by a decline in solar panel prices and government subsidies in the U.S., China, and Germany. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has projected a slower growth for renewables, although the IEA previously underestimated the expansion of alternative energy
18 Jun 2012:
Japan Feed-in Tariffs Approved
As Government Restarts 2 Nuclear Plants
Japan’s struggle over its energy future was on display over the last two days as the government okayed restarting operations at two nuclear power plants
while also approving an ambitious renewable energy feed-in tariff
in which utilities will pay a premium for electricity generated by solar, wind, and geothermal power. After shutting down the country’s 50 nuclear power plants following the Fukushima nuclear power meltdown, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Saturday gave the green light to bring two nuclear reactors in western Japan back online. Despite public unease and a large street protest in Tokyo, the government said that post-Fukushima reforms had rendered the plants safe. Meanwhile, the government approved generous green energy feed-in tariffs as part of a drive to significantly expand renewable power generation.
Under the feed-in tariffs, utilities will pay 42 yen (53 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour for solar-generated electricity and 23 yen per kilowatt hour for wind-generated electricity.