Last week the Washington Post exposed electric cars’ dirty secret: they use electricity! The piece makes the astute point an electric vehicle (EV) is only as clean as the electricity that is used to power it. It is true that in many parts of the world that still heavily rely on coal, such as China, the climate benefit from an EV charging from the grid may be slim or even slightly negative. While it is important to remember that EVs do have a climate impact, EVs offer other advantages over gasoline-powered cars that need to be part of the discussion when evaluating the technology:
Count Maine “in” as one of the 18 states filing a motion to intervene to defend the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA” or “Agency”) Clean Power Plan (“Rule”). A coalition including 24 states wasted little time filing suit against the much-anticipated final Rule after it was posted in the Federal Register on October 23. The coalition alleges that the Rule is an overreach of the authority delegated to the Agency by Congress and more specifically, Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act cannot be used to regulate greenhouse gases. The petitioners are asking the court to stay the Rule while the suit is pending and ultimately, invalidate it as ultra vires.
In a lapse of fact checking and logic, the normally rigorous New Yorker magazine published a lengthy essay by noted novelist and bird watcher Jonathan Franzen that, among other things, called wind and solar power “blights on the landscape” that should be abandoned in favor of bird sanctuaries because “drastic planetary overheating is a done deal.”
The crux of Franzen’s argument is summed up about halfway through his piece: “The Earth as we now know it resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy. We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe.”
In a recent decision by a California Appeals court, the appellant, (Our Children’s Earth Foundation; (Appellant)), challenged the State Air Resources Board’s (Board) use of carbon offsets within its Cap-and-Trade program and more specifically, its method for establishing that the offsets achieve the requirement of “additionality.” That’s a loaded sentence so let’s start from the top.
In a sophisticated Cap-and-Trade system like California’s, regulated entities are given a number of options for meeting emission reductions targets. Offsets are one such option. Instead of undertaking on-site emission reduction projects within the emissions cap, emitters may choose to purchase emissions reduction credits generated by projects undertaken outside of the emissions cap. The design of such policy works because emissions—regardless of whether they are released by a coal-fired power plant in Ohio or through the cutting of timber in Indonesia—all enter the same global atmosphere. Therefore, a reduction of emissions made by a wind turbine in Maine can be equivalent in global climate impact to emission reductions made by a solar array in Arizona. Because of this, a power plant in California could chose to purchase emissions reduction credits from an afforestation project in Massachusetts, while maintaining the integrity of the emissions cap based in its home state. But the catch is that the carbon reduction represented by each offset credit must have integrity. And that’s the heart of this suit.
Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Arizona recently released findings from tidal data collected over a two year period (2009-2010). The central conclusion of the data is this: New England sea levels are rising more rapidly than anticipated.
Although the study most likely represents a peak in data and not a permanent rise, the findings are still being held as significant. The study found that over a two year period, Northeast waters rose on average 3.9 inches with the steepest rise of 5 inches taking place in Casco Bay, off the coast of Portland, Maine. The report attributes the sharp rise to warming ocean temperatures. This conclusion builds upon the initial findings of a more long-term study undertaken by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. This study indicates that the waters of the Gulf of Maine are warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans. (An informative discussion of the impacts of this trend on both marine life and fisheries can be found here.)