A Better Approach to Environmental Regulation: Getting the Costs and Benefits Right

Via the RFF Library Blog.

Brookings Institution / by Ted Gayer
http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2011/05_environment_regulation_gayer/05_environment_regulation_gayer_paper.pdf

[Abstract]  Cost-benefit analysis of environmental regulation plays a key role in determining how to achieve our environmental goals without imposing unnecessary costs on the economy. This paper proposes three reforms that address several problems that undermine the role played by cost-benefit analysis in environmental regulation. First, agencies should be required to use a checklist of good empirical practices and should promote decentralized evaluations of data and research. Second, absent compelling systematic evidence to the contrary, agencies should presume that consumers are best able to make their own energy-saving decisions, and should focus on regulations that address the harm that people impose on others. Third, a six-month early regulatory review process should be established for particularly important regulations to allow sufficient time for a thorough cost-benefit analysis and the incorporation of the results into the final regulations.

A Strategy for America’s Energy Future: Illuminating Energy’s Full Costs

Via the RFF Library Blog.

Brookings Institution / by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney
http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2011/05_energy_greenstone_looney/05_energy_greenstone_looney.pdf

[Abstract]  Energy consumption is critical to economic growth and our quality of life. America’s energy system, however, is malfunctioning. The status quo is characterized by a tilted playing field, where our energy choices are based on the visible costs that appear on utility bills and at the gas pump. This system masks the social costs arising from those energy choices, including shorter lives, higher health care expenses, a changing climate, and weakened national security. As a result, we pay unnecessarily high costs for energy. New “rules of the road” are needed to improve our living standards.  In this paper, The Hamilton Project provides four principles for reforming America’s energy policies. First, a level playing field requires that the full costs of different energy sources be priced. Second, basic research, development, and demonstration are essential for energy innovation, but government funding is required for critical investments that the private sector does not have the incentives to undertake. Third, environmental regulations should be designed and implemented as efficiently as possible. Finally, climate change, as a problem of global scope, should be addressed on a global scale.

What’s Holding Back Corporate Sustainability Efforts?

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

SAP, the business-intelligence software giant, has thrown its weight behind sustainability in a big way in the last few years, which you know if you’ve been reading these pages for any length of time.

But how strong a grasp have SAP’s customers got on green issues? To what extent do they factor efficiency and emissions, among many other concerns, into daily operations?

Before attending SAP’s massive annual conference, Sapphire Now, I would have guessed “not much.” But the answer actually seems to be “both more and less than you’d think.”

Radical Confidence: A Tale of Two Rivers

Read the full story at GreenerBuildings.

It is a gray, rainy day here in New York (this year is on track to be the second wettest year in New York history) and reading about the near-record floods on Mississippi has me thinking about saving water. You see, in China, the Yangtze River is at near-record lows, average snowpack in the Himalayas, which provide drinking water to over 40 percent of the world’s population, continues to fall and food production is being dramatically impacted in Chinese provinces with a combined population of a few hundred million people.

Lest you think that these problems are “over there,” the Department of Interior just released a study showing that climate change will result in temperature increases between five and seven degrees Fahrenheit and reductions in river flows in six of eight central and western river basins by the year 2050. Three major rivers, which provide water to eight states with a combined population of more than 50 million people, could see annual flow reductions of 8 to 14 percent during this period.

Philips, GE, Sylvania Showcase Newer, Greener Lightbulbs

Read the full story at GreenerBuildings.

The world’s largest lighting tradeshow, LIGHTFAIR International, is occurring this week in Philadelphia. While I was unable to go to the show this year, I have been glued to my computer reading about new product launches, each more amazing than the one I just read about.

Without a doubt, the theme of the show is new energy efficient bulbs. The new technologies are coming from leading manufacturers of lighting products that are showcasing bulbs in every shape, brightness level and price point imaginable.

How Cities, States and the Feds are Making Buildings Greener

Read the full story at GreenerBuildings.

[Editor’s Note: Earlier, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Melissa Gallagher-Rogers wrote about expectations for the annual Government Summit. Lane Burt follows up with this post on the gathering and the progress reported by government agencies at all levels.]

At USGBC’s 9th annual Government Summit last week it was as clear to all in attendance that governments at every level are leading by example in building sustainability.

U.S. Weather Extremes Show “New Normal” Climate

Read the full story at PlanetArk.

Heavy rains, deep snowfalls, monster floods and killing droughts are signs of a “new normal” of extreme U.S. weather events fueled by climate change, scientists and government planners said on Wednesday.

Farm Runoff in Mississippi River Floodwater Fuels Dead Zone in Gulf

Read the full story from PBS Newshour.

A dead zone — already the size of the state of New Jersey — is growing in the Gulf of Mexico, fueled by nutrient runoff from the swollen Mississippi River.

Opposition to Waste-to-Energy: A Waste of Waste?

Read the full post at ReVolt.

At a May 11 event in Washington, D.C. cohosted by the German Embassy and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, panelists discussed the differences in how Germany and the United States deal with their municipal solid waste (MSW). Germany, which created a national ban on landfilling MSW without pre-treatment in 2005, sent only 1 percent of its MSW to landfills in 2007. Sixty-four percent of Germany’s waste was recycled or composted, and the remaining 35 percent was incinerated in waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities. The United States, on the other hand, landfills 69 percent of its MSW, recycling only 24 percent and using 7 percent for WTE.

At first glance, WTE would seem to be a win-win. It involves incinerating MSW to run a turbine and produce electricity. WTE reduces the amount of space needed for landfills by 90 percent, prevents the expenditure involved with procuring fossil fuels and disposing of MSW, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding methane emissions from landfills and replacing fossil fuel consumption in waste transport and electricity production.

But WTE has many opponents, for a wide variety of reasons. Some object to the high costs. In the United States especially, with so much unused land, landfilling is cheap and the economics of any alternative are not good. Other critics worry about local air pollution or simply don’t want an industrial facility that deals in garbage near their homes or businesses. And some see WTE as taking attention and urgency away from recycling and composting (a better method of dealing with waste) and therefore believe it does more harm than good. This post will look deeper into this last claim.

U.S. Department of Energy Announces Expanded Partnership with Industry to Advance Next-Generation Automotive Technologies

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu today announced U.S. DRIVE, a cooperative partnership with industry to accelerate the development of clean, advanced, energy-efficient technologies for cars and light trucks and the infrastructure needed to support their widespread use. This partnership is part of DOE’s broad strategy to expand the availability of advanced vehicles to American families to help protect them from future spikes in gas prices and reduce our nation’s reliance on imported oil. Formerly known as the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership, U.S. DRIVE – Driving Research and Innovation for Vehicle efficiency and Energy sustainability – brings together top technical experts from DOE, the national laboratories, and industry partners to identify critical research and development (R&D) needs, develop technical targets and strategic roadmaps, and evaluate R&D progress on a broad range of advanced vehicle and energy infrastructure technologies.

“Government-industry partnerships like U.S. DRIVE can quicken the pace at which affordable, fuel-efficient vehicles reach and succeed in the commercial market,” said U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “By bringing together the best and brightest in government and the automobile, electric utility, and fuels industries, we can develop promising, innovative technologies that move rapidly from the lab into cars on the road, along with the infrastructure to support them.”

Today’s announcement of U.S. DRIVE marks the addition of two new members that bring additional focus on electric-drive vehicle technologies to the partnership. The Electric Power Research Institute and Tesla Motors will join DOE and long-standing industry partners that have renewed their strong commitments to collaborative, pre-competitive R&D.

The full list of U.S. DRIVE partners includes:

  • Auto industry – United States Council for Automotive Research LLC (the collaborative research company for Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors) and Tesla Motors
  • Energy industry – BP America, Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corporation, and Shell Oil Products US
  • Electric utility industry – DTE Energy, Southern California Edison, and the Electric Power Research Institute

U.S. DRIVE partners work together on an extensive portfolio of advanced automotive and energy infrastructure technologies, including batteries and electric-drive components, advanced combustion engines, lightweight materials, and fuel cells and hydrogen technologies. By facilitating frequent and detailed technical information exchange among DOE, the national laboratories, and industry partners, U.S. DRIVE will help to accelerate technical achievement as the nation’s top experts identify R&D needs, explore solutions to technical problems, and evaluate R&D progress. It will also help the partners avoid duplicating efforts in government and industry and ensure that publicly funded research delivers high-value results that help overcome key barriers to technology commercialization. Not only will the efforts under the partnership contribute to reducing our nation’s dependence on oil, they will also lower carbon pollution and help to secure U.S. leadership globally in the development of innovative, clean energy technologies for the transportation sector.

For more information about U.S. DRIVE, visit the DOE Vehicle Technologies Program Research Partnerships website.