In what may be this week's worst amendment to the Waxman-Markey climate bill, a midwestern Congressman has introduced a provision that would ban the EPA from accounting for the full carbon footprint of biofuels.
Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the powerful chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, is expected to attach the amendment before releasing the bill to the House floor, where a vote is expected as early as tomorrow. The change would prevent the EPA from accounting for the way that growing biofuel crops in the U.S. drives food production abroad, causing deforestation that contributes to climate change. Ignoring this "indirect land-use change"--the technical term for a phenemon that can account for up to 40 percent of corn-based ethanol's carbon emissions--would allow the fuel to qualify under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, making it eligible for government subsidies.
In effect, the ethanol industry is hiding behind the difficulty of calculating its own environmental footprint. Though the EPA has already devised a method to account for the land-use impacts of biofuels, the amendment prohibits the agency from implementing it for six years, at which point the National Academy of Sciences will have completed a study that is supposed to resolve lingering uncertanties with the method.
An obscure executive order issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 has given Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the power to approve or deny a massive oil pipeline between Canada's controversial tar sands and U.S. oil refineries.
In the coming weeks, the State Department will decide whether to grant a permit for the 1,000-mile Alberta Clipper pipeline, which would be capable of carrying up to 800,000 barels per day of crude oil--or about 8 percent of net U.S. oil imports--from the tar sands in eastern Alberta to refineries on Lake Superior in Wisconsin.
Under current law--rarely invoked, given that oil imports typically arrive in the U.S. by tanker--the Secretary of State must receive all applications for the construction of "pipelines, conveyor belts, and similar facilities for the exportation and importation of petroleum." If the Secretary finds that granting a permit "would not serve the national interest," she can deny it.
A study of 4,000 "eco-friendly" consumer products found on supermarket shelves found that 98 percent of them make false or misleading claims. The study, presented to Congress earlier this month by the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice, found rampant greenwashing in every product category. Twenty-two percent of the products it evaluated featured an environmental badge, or "green label," that was actually meaningless.
Congress is now debating better ways clamp down on greenwashing. The Federal Trade Comission, which is supposed to prevent the practice, has taken almost no enforcement action against greenwashers over the past decade. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is contemplating introducing a bill that would boost federal oversight of eco-marketing, including product lablels. While one third of conumers rely on labels to decide if a product is environmentally friendly, there is a confusing jumble of 300 competing environmental certification programs that bombards them with competing and misleading claims.
A long-awaited vote on the Waxman-Markey climate bill, expected this week or early next month, has environmentalists teetering at the edge of existential crisis. Some believe the bill is so deeply flawed it might actually make matters worse; disillusionment with the bill is causing fierce recriminations within the environmental movement and has led to a knockdown, drag-out fight within the Sierra Club.
“This situation represents much more than just a normal legislative fight,” says former Sierra Club president Larry Fahn, who as a current board member has argued that the bill has been watered down to the point of being unsalvageable. “It’s about the core of what we’re now fighting for, and who we are.”
Emission Reductions The Good
Would cut and offset emissions by as much as 17 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 The Bad
Watered down from original goal of 19 percent The Ugly
Scientists say a 25 to 40 percent cut is needed to avert catastrophic climate change.
Efficient and Renewable Energy The Good
Requires states to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources and energy efficiency improvements by 2020 The Bad
Watered down from original goal of 40 percent by 2025 The Ugly
Because the requirement would supersede stricter laws in states such as California, the US Energy Information Administration estimates that it might have the overall effect of hampering clean energy production.
Coal Power The Good
Requires new coal plants built after 2009 to capture 50 percent of their carbon emissions The Bad
The requirement doesn’t go into effect until 2025 The Ugly
Strips the EPA of its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 emissions from new and existing coal plants
Cap and Trade The Good
Ambitiously caps emissions at 68 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 by creating a market in tradable emissions permits The Bad
By 2020, the cap will have cut emissions by only 4 percent The Ugly
Only 15 percent of the tradable emissions permits will be auctioned off by the government; the bill hands out another 50 percent of the permits to the fossil fuel industry for free.
Offsets The Good
Emission reduction projects funded through carbon offsets must be verifiable, permanent, and “additional,” meaning that the projects would not have occurred on their own. The Bad
If US polluters use all of the offsets allowed under the bill—equivalent to 2 billion tons of CO2 per year—they won’t have to start cutting their own emissions until around 2025. The Ugly
Despite similar regulation of offsets under the Kyoto Protocol, a 2008 analysis from Stanford found that between one-third and two-thirds of the projects did nothing to counteract carbon emissions.