Obama Administration Supports Cape Wind Project

Thames Estuary Wind Turbine, photo: phault

US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was in Massachusetts today to announce that the Department of Interior is approving the Cape Cod offshore wind farm.

The project has been incredibly contentious in Massachusetts, resulting in a nine-year delay on moving forward and the development of unusual political fissures in the state.   The project was famously opposed by the late Ted Kennedy who was thought to have been worried about its impact on the Nantucket Sound–a prime yachting corridor.   Other Massachusetts politicians, including Governor Deval Patrick, have been key supporters, recognizing the economic development potential and the environmental benefits from an expansion of wind energy.

Salazar did make some concessions to opponents.   The project will be smaller than initially anticipated with 130 turbines, rather than 170, approved.  Salazar also indicated that the developer will have to do more marine archaeological surveys and reduce the visual impact of the turbines.

Given how prevalent the off-shore wind development is in Europe, it is amazing that the Cape Wind project will be the first of its kind in the US.  Much of the delay has been due to the lack of federal leadership on the issue.  Thankfully, Salazar recognized this problem and said that nine years of review for a project is excessive and that the process should be more “rational and orderly.”

He also indicated that today’s approval of Cape Wind should be seen as a signal that the approval process should not be so onerous for other projects in development on the Atlantic coast.

There are still hurdles to overcome before Cape Wind is a reality.  Although Gov. Patrick said that construction will begin next year, the deregulated electricity market has to be taken into account.   Cape Wind will need to sell its electricity to distributors.  If the price point is insufficient, this could have an impact on the financing needed to carry out a massive construction project.

EPA Moving on Climate Without Congress

While much of the current discussion surrounding climate policy in the United States tends to focus on Congress writing cap and trade legislation, it is important to note that Obama’s EPA is steadfastly moving along the greenhouse gas regulatory process.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

Whether this is a deliberate effort to get Congress to act or the EPA under head administrator Lisa Jackson just doing her job is unclear. However, steps taken on the regulatory front could help the Obama Administration next month in its effort to convince other countries that the US is moving on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Today it was reported that the EPA sent to the White House the final scientific finding on the hazards of greenhouse gas emissions. This process began during the Bush Administration when the EPA was sued under the Clean Air Act to make a determination about the hazards of GHGs. If excessive concentrations are found to endanger public health or welfare, the EPA must regulate them.

Hearings were held and comments were taken earlier this year and all that is needed now is basically White House approval of the scientific findings. One the finding is official, that could have wide implications on the regulation and give the EPA unprecedented power to restrict emissions.

Many people argue that EPA regulation may not be the most effective way to engage in economy-wide mitigation–and, in fact, there is currently a debate in Congress on whether to strip the EPA of GHG regulatory power under any cap and trade regime. But, if Congress won’t act, the EPA actions are evidence that the Administration will.

Also on the EPA’s plate is a potential rule that would require large emitters to make upgrades in efficiency to reduce GHG emissions as part of the standard permitting process. For instance, power plants would be required to get up-to-date efficiency technology on a regular basis. This “tailoring rule” would cover sources responsible for about 70% of US emissions, so the mitigation potential could be significant.

The EPA is currently taking public comment on the tailoring rule, which you can look at online. It is interesting to look at the comments–which are generally updated daily–to see what people are thinking and which interest groups are engaged in coordinated campaigning. There are quite a few comments from people cutting and pasting boilerplate text from the National Association of Manufacturers who suggest that the EPA is trying to “regulate your life.”

My favorite so far was from an individual who implored the EPA to “get your jackboots off the throats of the American people!”

There will also be public hearings held next week in Arlington, VA (Wed, Nov.18) and the Chicago suburb of Rosemont (Thurs., Nov. 19). As of this writing, the only speaker who has registered for the Rosemont meeting is, David Sykuta, a registered lobbyist for the Illinois Petroleum Council. Anyone can speak, however, and I don’t think pre-registration is required.

EU Falling Short of Emissions Targets

According to the Guardian, the European Union is off target to meet its greenhouse gas emission reductions as part of its obligation to the Kyoto Treaty.

Based on current levels of emissions, the EU will reduce emissions to 0.6% of 1990 levels by 2010.  Under Kyoto, they are obliged to reduce emissions to 8% of 1990 levels by 2012.

The countries that are most exceeding their allowances are ones that are experiencing the highest rates of economic growth, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland.  The emissions figures for each individual country can be found on the European Comission’s webpage.

Resisting Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia

The New York Times has a report today on mountaintop removal and the ways in which citizens in Appalachia are organizing to resist the practice.

Mountaintop removal is a form of coal mining that has became popular and cost-effective for coal companies in the last decade. Instead of drilling into the mountain to mine the coal, this method simply takes the “top” of the mountain to create a more open pit for mining. All of the waste is then dumped into adjacent valleys.

The environmental impacts of this practice are devastating. The loss of trees increases the likelihood for flooding and hyrdological systems are contaminated by the waste.

There was a backlash against the practice in the 1990s, led by such groups as Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, resulted in modest regulations during the late part of the decade. However, under the Bush administration, the rules for depositing the waste have been significantly relaxed, leading to an increase in the employment of the removal technique.

Today’s Times article frames the resistance as a “new” phenomenon whereby residents are appealing to their “faith” as a justification for resisting the practice and are using churches as the insitutional foundation for organizing. The article has a bit of the typical East Coast condescending attitude, implying that “faith” is being used in the absence of “rationality” in guiding citizen criticism of the practice.

In reality, the role of religious institutions as important civic spaces for resisting environmental exploitation is long-standing. In fact, the environmental justice movement in the United States traces its origin to strong community organizing with prominent roles filled by religious leaders. In 1982, the resistance of the predominantly African American residents of Warren County, North Carolina to the siting of a hazardous waste landfill relied upon religious institutions and the 1987 groundbreaking study on “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States” was sponsored by the United Church of Christ.

For more information on the grassroots origins of the environmental justice movement, Robert Bullard’s classic study, Dumping in Dixie, still retains its relevance.