Prometheus » Environment Fri, 02 Jul 2010 16:53:16 +0000 en hourly 1 FutureGen Clean Coal Plant May Get New Life Mon, 15 Jun 2009 18:12:32 +0000 admin Wired notes that the FutureGen clean coal plant, which had been shuttered in part due to perceived cost overruns (which were a result of bad math), may rise again. The plant is intended to demonstrate carbon capture and storage at levels and costs that would encourage other power plants to follow suit.

On Friday the Department of Energy issued a press release indicating it had reached an agreement with the FutureGen Alliance (the private part of this public-private partnership).  The agreement would allow the project to move forward with needed planning, research, and design activities, with a final decision on building the plant in early 2010.  Most of the DOE contribution will come from Recovery Act funds.

NOTE: FWIW, I will continue blogging after the pending retirement of this siteUnlike Roger, my shingle is not yet ready.  Once it is (and it should be soon), I’ll post the link here.

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A National Climate Service? Wed, 27 May 2009 19:21:37 +0000 admin The House Science and Technology Committee will consider H.R. 2407, the Climate Service Act of 2009, during a markup hearing on June 3.  The bill was introduced by the Committee’s Chairman, Rep. Bart Gordon, so it stands a decent chance of passing out of committee.  I have no idea how far it might move after that.  An open question is how closely the fate of this bill is tied to the fate of Waxman-Markey.

The bill would establish a stand-alone National Climate Service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The purpose of the service would be to:

(1) advance understanding of climate variability and change at the global, national, and regional levels;

(2) provide forecasts, warnings, and other information to the public on variability and change in weather and climate that affect geographic areas, natural resources, infrastructure, economic sectors, and communities; and

(3) support development of adaptation and response plans by Federal agencies, State, local, and tribal governments, the private sector, and the public.

More specific functional responsibilities of the proposed Service are in Section 4(c)(5) of the bill.  If the bill is passed, the NOAA Administrator would have to develop an implementation plan that would provide more detail about the responsibilities for the NCS and how it would fit with the rest of NOAA.

The NCS would leverage some of the stations and locations of the National Weather Service to establish itself across the nation.  It would share information with other NOAA components as needed.  As described in the legislation (Section 4(c)(1)),

“The Under Secretary shall operate the National Climate Service through a national center, the Climate Service Office, and a network of regional and local facilities, including the established regional and local offices of the National Weather Service, 6 Regional Climate Centers, the offices of the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program, the National Integrated Drought Information System, and any other National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-supported regional and local entities, as appropriate.”

The bill would also establish cooperative research programs (the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program) that would be awarded through a peer-reviewed process.  The teams working in this program would “conduct applied regional climate research and projects to address the needs of local and regional decisionmakers for information and tools to develop adaptation and response plans to climate variability and change.”

I come to this more from a process/organizational perspective (creating a new agency) than the climate change angle.  A question rolling around in my mind is how this agency would (or would not) mesh with the number of advisory and other bodies that would be created by Waxman-Markey.  My sense is that the House is much more invested in Waxman-Markey, but not necessarily in the parts of that bill where the various advisory groups and other entities are established.  That said, it would not surprise me if potential conflicts and overlaps between a National Climate Service and the bodies established in Waxman-Markey are not addressed prior to closure on that legislation.

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Green Chemistry Infiltrates EPA’s Office of Research and Development Mon, 25 May 2009 00:06:36 +0000 admin Amongst the recent appointment announcements is the news that Paul Anastas, a synthetic chemist who coined the phrase ‘green chemistry,’ was nominated to head the EPA’s Office of Research and Development (H/T ScienceInsider).  As the EPA’s green chemistry efforts are in a different part of the agency, the choice of Anastas was not necessarily expected.  While currently at Yale, Dr. Anastas has worked at the agency before, and just might shift some of the research and development initiatives at the EPA to incorporate green chemistry.  This might prompt a scenario where there is greater attention paid to designing and innovating new products that reduce environmental impact.  It would be nice to have additonal policy choices besides traditional limits on exposure and similar regulatory restrictions.

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EPA Issues Its Own Scientific Integrity Memo Wed, 20 May 2009 03:22:25 +0000 admin On May 9, EPA Administrator Jackson issued a memo to all EPA employees about scientific integrity in the agency (H/T OSTP Blog).  Keeping in line with the Obama Administration’s scientific integrity memo, scientific integrity is not defined in this memo.  While referencing the agencies previous efforts in this area, including whistleblower protections, Administrator Jackson notes that she has asked the EPA Science Council to assess EPA efforts and gaps in this area:

“The SPC at my request is inventorying all our guidelines and policies that relate to scientific integrity to look for gaps and possible areas for improvement. One SPC focus, for example, will be updating and reaffirming EPA’s Peer Review Handbook and recommending how we can improve implementation of our peer review policies across our programs and regions. I also have asked the SPC to work the National Partnership Council to reaffirm the Agency’s Principles of Scientific Integrity and update the Principles of Scientific Integrity online training.”

It’s also important to note the parts of this memo that are open to misleading interpretation.  Some will read them and think the EPA will only accept policy outcomes dictated by science (whatever that means).  What the language means is that the desired policy outcomes of the EPA will be supported by science that is conducted under current accepted community standards.

“While the laws that EPA implements leave room for policy judgments, the scientific findings on which these judgments are based should be arrived at independently using well-established scientific methods, including peer review, to assure rigor, accuracy, and impartiality. This means that policymakers must respect the expertise and independence of the Agency’s career scientists and independent advisors while insisting that the Agency’s scientific processes meet the highest standards of rigor, quality, and integrity.”

The most important part of the above paragraph is the language that understands the science is the support of policy decisions, not the determinant of those decisions.  Judgment is still king, and judgments will be made on many criteria, not just science.  The EPA Administrator recognizes that there will be conflicts:

“Able scientists may not always agree on what methodologies should be employed or how studies should be interpreted. I am committed to fostering a culture of robust scientific debate and discussion within the Agency, recognizing that in the end senior scientists must take responsibility for resolving differences of opinions using established science policies and their best professional judgment. I intend to work with our science leadership, unions, and career staff to make sure that we respect and encourage free and honest discussion among our scientists while bringing to closure issues that we must resolve to support decision making.”

Now this will not stop anyone, on any side of any issue, from trying to close off debates by appealing to the science.  Those that would suggest new standards of scientific integrity support such actions aren’t reading memos like this closely enough.

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A request – 100 MPG Cars? Tue, 24 Mar 2009 01:42:51 +0000 admin I’m responding to an off-topic request from one of the comment threads on a recent post.  For the record (and others can ding me if I get this wrong), you can put those kinds of requests into writing after clicking on the Ask link in the right-hand column.

At any rate, the request, paraphrased, asked me about whether or not we would see a 100-mpg car with the same kinds of features that we see in cars today.

I was (and am still) reluctant to answer this for a few reasons.

Ultimately, my answer is I don’t know, but I doubt that’s satisfactory to some.

I’m nowhere near a gearhead/petrolhead, as I never mastered a standard shift, and the bulk of my automotive knowledge comes from a combination of Car Talk, Top Gear and Wired’s Autopia.  While I minimize my driving, and try and maximize fuel efficiency as best I can while driving, I know I have more car than I need.

Even for those who aren’t gearheads but are interested in the issue, discussion of cars – especially in the States – can get particularly heated in a way resembling debates over sports teams.  That’s not particularly productive, and I don’t want to encourage it here.

Finally, I’m not sure that framing the question in terms of 100 mpg is really the best way to address the problems increased fuel efficiency is trying to solve.  Emissions can be reduced by driving less as well as driving more fuel-efficient (or non fossil fuel) vehicles, or some combination thereof.  The drop in miles driven in the United States, as well as the possible shuttering of makes and models that were on the lower end of the efficiency spectrum, can be as beneficial as increasing mileage.  Cost (both in money and emissions) per mile seem a better take on what the agitation in this area is aimed at reducing.

That said, I shall try and give an answer.  I think its possible that a 100 mpg car can be developed and sold successfully.  Given the embrace of good diesel and what amounts to a head start to 100 mpg (compacts in Europe can have an average MPG of at least twice the closest American equivalent – more if using diesel), I expect it to happen in Europe before it takes root in the U.S.  The efforts of Tesla and its electric sports car, as well as the Honda Clarity fuel cell car (both featured on the latest Top Gear episode to premiere in the U.S.), suggest that good, fast, and/or sporty alternatives to internal combustion are possible, but not yet ready for a consumer market.  Will they be the same as their internal combustion-based cousins?  No, but I have reason to think they will come close.

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Where are the eggs that were in this basket? Wed, 04 Feb 2009 04:57:46 +0000 admin The Pew Center released poll results of which topics were important to Americans.  Turns out, on the list of things Americans are concerned about, “Energy” ranks sixth.  In the complete report, it appears that “Energy” is short for, “Dealing with US energy problems” as a top priority.  But because nowhere are the “energy problems” defined, they can be anything from the price of gas, to the importation of oil, to the lack of energy Americans have to exercise at the end of the day.

As one looks farther down the list of the top 20 priorities, “Global Warming” ranks last (i.e. “Dealing with Global Warming”).    Yet, what I found noteworthy is that the “environment” is ranked sixteenth (i.e. “Protecting the Environment”).  The Pew Center (and thus, suggesting Americans) finds global warming, the environment, and energy to be separate issues.

Evidently, the White House feels differently then the American people. lumps together energy and the environment.  The agenda lists many things that would, in theory, reduce greenhouse gases and “Make the US a Leader in Climate Change.”  Interestingly, the website’s only mention of the environment is that foreign oil wreaks “havoc” on it.  Further, it appears that to speak of energy is to speak of climate change is to speak of the environment (or vice versa I suppose).

However, it’s not that energy, climate change, and the environment has been lumped together as one issue that I find interesting.   It is that climate change has been pushed onto the policy agenda relinquishing all other environmental issues… even with Americans’ concern for protecting the environment to be greater then that for dealing with climate change.

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International Renewable Energy Agency in the Works Mon, 02 Feb 2009 03:19:07 +0000 admin Nature News is reporting on the early organizing efforts of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an organization of member states that was born from a conference held in Germany one week ago.  The specific tasks for the organization will be determined at a meeting this June, but the general focus will be on promoting renewable energy development around the globe.

This agency is being created by multilateral agreement, with more than 75 countries currently signed on.  As of this moment, the United States, United Kingdom, China and Brazil are not signatory to the agency.  Given the energy usage of those countries, hopefully that changes by the time the agency holds its first formal conference next year.

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Reminder: Just Because The Person’s a Scientist… Mon, 29 Dec 2008 18:13:54 +0000 admin Doesn’t mean they’ll be a good scientific appointment.

The best (or worst, depending on how you frame this) example remains career scientist and current EPA head Stephen Johnson.  For evidence, take a gander at this recent profile in the Philadelphia Inquirer (H/T: Reality Base).  Saying anything more might just be piling on.

Unfortunately, the harder sell is the inverse: that just because someone isn’t a scientist doesn’t mean they’d be a bad scientific appointee.

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House Science and Technology Committee Outlines Plans for 111th Congress Fri, 19 Dec 2008 20:14:00 +0000 admin Yesterday House Science and Technology Committee chair Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tennessee) held a press conference outlining plans for the next Congress.  Given the energy emphasis of Presidential science appointments and the current economic debacle, Rep. Gordon emphasized those issues.  Topics covered included plans to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), science investment recommendations for the stimulus, R & D for possible cap and trade legislation, and a balanced portfolio for NASA.

I’m not sure how instructive Gordon’s comments will be, as it seems that he was jumping on the energy and climate bandwagon driven by the appointment of Dr. Chu as Energy Secretary.  Once subcommittee assignments are finalized in January, the agenda of the committee might become more clear.

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Full List of Obama Policy Groups Available Sat, 06 Dec 2008 18:49:55 +0000 admin The transition website has updated the lists of policy working groups to include all members, and not just the leads.  Readers will probably be most interested in the groups for Technology, Innovation and Government Reform; and Energy and Environment.  I’ve listed all of the names for Technology, Innovation and Government Reform policy working group, and what current affiliations National Journal’s Tech Daily Dose has cobbled together.

▪ Howard Buffet
▪ David Burd – Arnold & Porter
▪ Dan Chenok – Pragmatics general manager
▪ Aneesh Chopra – Virginia Technology Secretary
▪ Jack Chorowsky – Levin Capital Strategies
▪ Cheryl Dorsey – Echoing Green
▪ Joshua Dubois – Obama religious adviser
▪ Judy Estrin – JLabs CEO
▪ Tom Freedman – Progressive Policy Institute
▪ Jim Halpert – DLA Piper
▪ Mark Johnson
▪ Michele Jolin – Center for American Progress
▪ Tom Kalil – University of California, Berkeley
▪ Kei Koizumi – American Association for the Advancement of Science
▪ Vivek Kundra – D.C. Chief Technology Officer
▪ Don Lamb – University of Chicago
▪ John Leibovitz – Frontline Wireless
▪ Bruce McConnell – Government Futures LLC
▪ Andrew McLaughlin – Google
▪ Parry Norling – Chemical Heritage Foundation
▪ Beth Noveck – New York Law School
▪ Spencer Overton – George Washington University Law School
▪ Lori Perine – Interpretech CEO
▪ Kartik Raghavan – Trilogy Equity Partners
▪ Alec Ross – One Economy
▪ Paul Schmitz – Public Allies CEO
▪ Clifford Sloan – Skadden Arps, formerly of Slate magazine
▪ Steve Spinner – start-up adviser, entrepreneur
▪ Marta Urquilla – American Legacy Foundation
▪ Chris Warren – Non-profit coordinator/organizer
▪ Daniel Weitzner – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
▪ Irving Wladawsky-Berger – IBM Academy of Technology

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