Foreign Policy Blogs


Energy in the Senate – Following up on my last post, on the energy debate in Congress, there were a couple of interesting developments yesterday. In the Senate, an amendment offered by John Warner of Virginia to allow offshore drilling was narrowly defeated. More importantly, an amendment offered by the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Pete Domenici, to allow for a “Clean Portfolio Standard” that would have included nuclear and some coal technologies, was effectively defeated by tabling it. (For our friends outside the U.S.: “tabling” here means setting it aside, taking it out of immediate consideration and “laying it on the table,” as opposed to the meaning in most other legislative bodies in the world of bringing it forth for a vote.) Energy Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman, however, could not find the 60 votes necessary to bring his amendment requiring a national 15% true Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 2020 to a vote. See this story on yesterday’s activities from “Environmental Finance,” a British publishing concern.

Bingaman will be back next week to try again. Will the 39 voters for Domenici’s amendment, all of them Republican, serve as the core for a filibuster effort? It seems unlikely but possible. The argument being made against Bingaman’s 15% RPS is that some states, mostly in the South, couldn’t meet it. I’m trying not to scream here. What it’s about is that most Southern utilities are so wedded to coal and nuclear that they don’t want to see renewables. Renewables could cut deeply into their considerable profits. This whole country, very much including the South, could hit way above 15% by 2020 if the right incentives were in place. Bingaman’s approach is precisely what’s needed for industries and the financial markets to make the shift. If you want to find energy offshore, Senator Warner, why not start with windfarms? Bingaman said the South has abundant resources for this standard, including plant materials for biomass. Why not slice down all that kudzu for energy? How about tidal power and run-of-the-river hydro and solar PV and geothermal, etc., etc. Sen. Bingaman asked the federal Energy Information Administration to produce a report on the impacts of a 15% national RPS and they found, not surprisingly, some very positive numbers, including greatly increased biomass, wind and solar energy production and reduced costs for coal and natural gas, not to mention a 6.7% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.

Southern Baptists – Meanwhile, the annual meeting of the 16.3 million member Southern Baptist Convention ” approved a resolution on global warming Wednesday that questions the prevailing scientific belief that humans are largely to blame for the phenomenon and also warns that increased regulation of greenhouse gases will hurt the poor.” See this from the AP via the “Houston Chronicle.” The Baptists’ concern for “vulnerable communities” in this flies in the face of the IPCC and the Stern Commission both of which document a continuing and deepening crisis precisely for those in the world least able to adapt. I wrote about this in early April in “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. Reuters had this to say then:  U.N. panel issues stark climate change warning, and the BBC had this informative interactive map by region and by area of concern. I also wrote here, in late March, about the sharply countervailing view of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Climate Savers Computing Initiative The heaviest hitters in computers and the internet have launched an ambitious scheme to reduce power consumption. The goal is “to save $5.5 billion in energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons per year” by 2010. See Google backs green computer plan from the BBC and this press release. (I referenced IBM’s $1 billion upgrade program in my post More Climate Summit.)

By the way, the “NY Times” had this little item yesterday, Putting Energy Hogs in the Home on a Strict Low-Power Diet, which, in a nutshell, tells you to use the power-saving functions on your computers. I do that and I turn mine off at night.

National Association of Manufacturers – Meanwhile, NAM, representing 11,000 large and small manufacturers in every industrial sector, comprising over 200,000 facilities throughout the United States, and the US Department of Energy have signed an agreement to boost efficiency. See NAM’s press release. This builds on a successful partnership, the 2006 “Save Energy Now” campaign which had some pretty impressive results, including hundreds of millions of dollars in energy savings just for this relatively small pilot.

I have repeatedly hit here on the theme of efficiency. It addresses the demand side and that’s the side from which consumers and manufacturers can agree are where immediate and tangible benefits can be found. I wrote about this under “Markets” from April when I talked about 3M pathbreaking “Pollution Prevention Pays (3P)” program. I wrote about this in my last post from Wednesday, referencing the graphic from Vattenfall, and the work of the RMI and USGBC.

All we really need to do is to wake up and smell that coffee.

American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment , Last item today and it’s sweet: Meeting this week in Washington at (yet another) “summit,” 294 higher education presidents signed on to an ambitious program ” in pursuit of climate neutrality.” This initiative, aided and abetted by the student-driven Energy Action Coalition, is incorporating green design as defined by the LEED standards from the USGBC, and seeks to use ENERGY STAR products when and where universities can. It seems to me that this particular thrust is hugely important because it institutionalizes the sort of progressive thinking on energy and the environment that university students, our future leaders, will now be seeing every day of their lives during their time in higher academia.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change