April 28, 2011

First Tar Sands Mine approved in US

The Canadian tar sands industry is invading the United States. Alberta-based Earth Energy Resources has won all necessary permits to excavate tar sands oil from a 62-acre site in Uintah County, Utah. And that's just the start. Earth Energy has 7,800 acres of Utah state land under lease and plans to acquire more. The company estimates that its holdings contain more than 250 million barrels of recoverable oil.
Over the past decade, Canada has become the world's largest exploiter of tar sands, paying a high environmental cost to extract and convert its heavy oil, known as bitumen, into usable forms. Canada's tar sands boom has made it into the United States' largest source of foreign oil—as well as a major target of environmentalists, who strongly oppose a pipeline that would carry tar sands crude to US refineries.


Market value of companies decreased by CO2 emissions

In a study of S&P500 corporations conducted by the business schools of Notre Dame, Univ of Wisconsin and Georgetown University, researchers found that "for every additional thousand metric tons of carbon emissions for our sample of S&P 500 firms, firm value decreases by $202,000."

"The economic effect of carbon emissions on firm value is large, particularly since the direct costs of carbon emissions have been less than $40 per metric ton in the recent past."
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Georgetown University and the University of Notre Dame believe the report is the first to provide evidence of the price that U.S. capital markets are assigning to emissions.
"The results have significant implications, as federal regulation requiring companies to pay for their carbon emissions continues to be debated," said Sandra Vera-Muñoz, one of the authors and a professor at the University of Notre Dame, in a statement. "Although regulation has yet to be adopted, our results suggest that the markets are already anticipating the effects of the costs of emissions on firm value."

NRG Energy pulls the plug on 2 nuclear plants

Blaming uncertainties arising from the nuclear crisis in Japan, NRG Energy says it will write down its $481 million investment in two planned new nuclear reactors in South Texas.

NRG Chief Executive David Crane said Tuesday it was unlikely the two reactors could be completed in a timely fashion.
One of NRG's partners was to be Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Japanese utility that owns the reactor complex crippled by last month's earthquake and tsunami.
However the project was in trouble for economic reasons well before the nuclear disaster in Japan last month. 

In September 2007, NRG Energy filed a full application to build 2 reactors totaling 2,700 MW of capacity for a cost of $10B or $13B after taking into account financing costs. 

In October 2009, the main contractor on the project, Toshiba informed the investors that the project was likely to cost $4B more than estimated. That would put the cost per kW at between $5,185 and $6,296 per kW. That news was enough for CPS Energy a 50% stakeholder at the time to pull out, to be replaced by TEPCO. 

Nuclear can no longer compete economically with other electricity power solutions. In Texas alone, NRG Energy is producing 5x as much electricity from natural gas than from nuclear. 

Safety is the victim in Japan's insular nuclear industry

The NY Times reports on Japan's nuclear industry and how the industry, politicians, government regulators and academics are tied together in a "culture of complicity" that  "made the plant especially vulnerable to the natural disaster that struck the country on March 11."

TOKYO — Given the fierce insularity of Japan's nuclear industry, it was perhaps fitting that an outsider exposed the most serious safety cover-up in the history of Japanese nuclear power. It took place at Fukushima Daiichi, the plant that Japan has been struggling to get under control since last month's earthquake and tsunami. 

In 2000, Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese-American nuclear inspector who had done work for General Electric at Daiichi, told Japan's main nuclear regulator about a cracked steam dryer that he believed was being concealed. If exposed, the revelations could have forced the operator, Tokyo Electric Power, to do what utilities least want to: undertake costly repairs.
What happened next was an example, critics have since said, of the collusive ties that bind the nation's nuclear power companies, regulators and politicians.

Nissan Leaf & Chevy Volt pass safety tests

Crash tests have revealed that the plug-in hybrid GM Volt and the electric Nissan Leaf could be safer than other small cars, eliminating fears that car makers would have to compromise on safety to achieve environmental targets.
Both vehicles were awarded the highest-possible 'good' rating after tests of front, side, rear and rollover crashes by the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Schwarzenegger: Clean Air Act keeps us healthy

I love American success stories. Start-up companies that change the marketplace, inventors who create new technologies, and, of course, immigrants who make it big in Hollywood. That's why I love the Clean Air Act, one of the most successful laws in American history. Over the last 40 years, it has made our air dramatically cleaner, saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and substantially boosted our economy.
In 1968, I came to California and didn't know why my eyes were constantly filling with tears. I quickly learned about smog and bad-air days. These days, the air is much cleaner thanks to the Clean Air Act and technologies that resulted from it, such as catalytic converters on cars and particle traps on diesel exhaust. Those toxic smog days motivated everyone to act.
Today, I have tears in my eyes again, but for a very different reason. Some in Washington are threatening to pull the plug on this success.
That's Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, "The Clean Air Act Keeps Us Healthy:  Congress can't be trusted to interfere with the EPA's scientific standards."
Here's more from the Republican who was governor of California from 2003 to 2011:

Since January, there have been more than a dozen proposals in Congress to limit enforcement of our clean-air rules, create special-interest loopholes, and attempt to reverse scientific findings. These attacks go by different names and target different aspects of the law, but they all amount to the same thing: dirtier air.
This is not an abstract political fight. If these proposals are passed, more mercury, dioxins, carbon pollution and acid gases will end up in the air our kids breathe. More Americans will get sick, end up in the hospital, and die from respiratory illness. We would be turning our backs on the sound science and medical advice that has reduced air pollution from large industrial sources by more than 70% since the late 1960s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The rules that are under attack put common-sense limits on dangerous chemicals in our air. Mercury, which after 20 years is finally being regulated from power plants, is a dangerous neurotoxin that damages brain development and lowers IQs in young children. Acid gases, like hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride, are associated with bronchitis and asthma, according to the American Lung Association. And dioxins and other pollutants cause cancer.
Hobbling the Clean Air Act will also hurt the economy. More air pollution causes more sick days, and thus hurts productivity. And, as I know from California's experience, clean-air rules have led to innovation and new technologies that have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions in clean-energy investment.
Congress should not substitute political calculations for scientific and medical facts. According to a recent poll by the American Lung Association, 69% of Americans believe that EPA scientists should set health standards, rather than members of Congress. Yet one proposal under consideration would actually overturn a finding by EPA experts on the impact of carbon pollution on our atmosphere. Another would prevent government scientists from even gathering information on the amount of this pollution going into the air.
I began my public service by promoting fitness for kids, so I know how much parents worry about keeping their children healthy. We choose the right foods, encourage exercise, wear bike helmets, and keep them away from danger whenever we can. But there are some threats, like air pollution, that we can't protect them from on our own. We can't tell our kids not to breathe or control what toxins blow into our air from neighboring states.
For this, we rely on our nation's clean-air laws.
I'm proud that it was a fellow California Republican, President Richard Nixon, who signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970. In 1990, the act was strengthened by huge bipartisan majorities in Congress. Let's keep that bipartisan tradition alive to make sure no more tears are shed over the clean air that the American people deserve.

Green Energy vs. Dirty Energy Costs

I'm waiting in the lobby of a hotel this school vacation week - watching a FOX News show do a segment on green energy. 

Their headline - 

"New Green Energy will drive up electricity costs" 

The FOX News folks make it through the entire segment without mentioning that new natural gas plants, new coal plants or new nuclear plants would also drive up electricity costs. 

If you compare the costs to produce electricity from a 50 year old, fully-depreciated coal power plant against the cost of electricity from any newly constructed power plant - whether it is powered by gas, coal, nuclear, solar or wind - you will find that the cost of electricity from the new plant are higher than the old plant. 

A fair comparison between renewable and non-renewable electricity costs would also take into account the externalities (the cost to our health) of building a new coal power plant. A recent study by Paul Epstein at Harvard Medical School found that the health care costs of burning coal are 17.8 cents per kWh. Taking that cost into account would more than double our total cost of electricity as delivered by NSTAR. 

So a fair comparison would show that new renewable energy costs us less than either new or old coal powered electricity. 

Your Pain - Big Oil's Gain

Exxon earned $11 billion
Shell earned $6.9 billion 
BP earned $5.5 billion
Enough said.

April 22, 2011

Repealing Laws of Nature

Congressman Markey had these comments regarding the Republican House attempts to repeal laws of nature by an Act of Congress.

"I won't rise because the Republicans may overturn the law of gravity..."

Solar increases home's resale value

All those homeowners who have been installing residential solar panels over the last decade may find it was a more practical decision than they thought. The electricity generated may have cost more than that coming from the local power company (half of which, nationwide, comes from burning coal), but if they choose to sell their homes, the price premium they will get for the solar system should let them recoup much of their original capital investment.

That is the conclusion of three researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who looked at home sales — both homes with photovoltaic systems and homes without — in California over an eight-and-a-half-year period ending in mid-2009. The abstract of their study states, "the analysis finds strong evidence that California homes with PV systems have sold for a premium over comparable homes without PV systems."
The premium ranged from $3.90 to $6.40 per watt of capacity, but tended most often to be about $5.50 per watt. This, the study said, "corresponds to a home sales price premium of approximately $17,000 for a relatively new 3,100-watt PV system (the average size of PV systems in the study)."
And the bottom line: "These average sales price premiums appear to be comparable to the investment that homeowners have made to install PV systems in California, which from 2001 through 2009 averaged approximately $5/watt."
If the California findings can be extrapolated nationally, it would mean that the owners of 139,000 homes can collect a premium at resale time. For those who promote photovoltaic systems, it is a second line of defense against the argument (and reality) that the initial cost of installing the solar means using it for many years before the savings on electricity are enough to pay back the investment.
But there is a caveat. Homeowners who install solar on existing houses get nearly three times the premium of homeowners whose house came with solar panels. The study speculates about the reasons, suggesting that "new home builders may also gain value from PV as a market differentiator, and have therefore often tended to sell PV as a standard (as opposed to an optional) product on their homes and perhaps been willing to accept a lower premium in return for faster sales velocity."
Residential solar installations have been growing at an average 51 percent rate annually for the last five years, according to Larry Sherwood, a consultant to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a nonprofit group that works on helping interested parties navigate various legal, technical and economic aspects of renewable energy. As of 2010, the total capacity of these systems was 677 megawatts, he said. (His most recent report can be found here.)
And Jared Blanton, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, reports that in 2010, the residential market was 30 percent of the national solar PV market, above the utility market (28 percent) but behind commercial installations (42 percent).
news release on Thursday from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said that over all, approximately 2,100 megawatts of grid-connected solar photovoltaic systems (residential and nonresidential) have been installed across the country, almost half of this total in California.

1 million acres burning in Texas

Remember the unprecedented drought followed by wildfires sweeping much of Russa last summer? We're  getting a taste of the same here in Texas. 

More than 1 million acres of Texas plains and forests has gone up in smoke this month as hundreds of fires blazed through the Lone Star State.

Gusting winds, statewide drought and low humidity have created tinderbox conditions that state and federal firefighters are still struggling to contain. Lacking a forecast of steady downpours to cool the scorching earth, the Texas Forest Service is expecting the fire conditions to continue wreaking havoc throughout the state.
"Until we get significant moisture -- which would probably be two or three days of a half-inch of a rain a day -- we will continue to have fires like this," said Darrell Schulte, the current fire behavior specialist for the Texas Forest Service.
"It's unlikely they will see much relief before June," he said.
Fueling the fires are winds registering as high as 60 miles per hour that whip embers across acres of vegetation starved for rain. Typically, rain showers cool Texas' scorching earth this time of year, but those rains failed to materialize in 2011 -- making this season the driest since the Texas Forest Service started keeping records in 1915.
Last summer brought higher-than-average rainfalls, ironically exacerbating fire conditions by encouraging lush grass and shrubs to grow, said Schulte. That same vegetation, now parched, is making ideal kindling to feed wildfires as they spread across the state.
Outrunning computer fire models
"Drought is cyclical, and there is a strong relationship between La Niña patterns and below-normal rainfall in the Southwest," said Dave Samuhel, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com. Still, the current drought -- which has led to some sections of Texas netting the most severe drought label from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration while the rest of the state also ranks high on the scale -- may serve as a more extreme case, he said.
"A lot of this fire behavior is outside the modeling capabilities. The models give us an idea, but it doesn't match what happens in reality in extreme conditions," said Schulte.
Even with more accurate fire modeling technology honed in the last decade, firefighters are only able to do so much to contain these unpredictable wind-driven fires.
Since the wildfire season began Nov. 15, Texas has lost more than 373 homes, 244 of them just in the last month, according to estimates from Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office.
Texas is still continuing to battle some of the worst fires that first erupted April 6 as well as new ones that spring up each day, pouring thousands of gallons of fire retardant on the fires and deploying firefighters from Texas and more than 30 other states.
Changing climate may contribute
Over the weekend, Perry (R) wrote to the White House to request that the wildfire situation in Texas be declared a major disaster.
Since January, the estimated cost of fighting Texas wildfires has tallied in at more than $20 million, according to the Texas Forest Service. Securing a disaster designation would shift some of those costs and mitigation responsibilities to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Dan Byrd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, called this drought situation "unprecedented" -- pointing to how widespread the fires have become across the state and to the extent of the drought since October. "We haven't seen anything like this for the state since the early 1900s," he said.

Gas Blowout spills contaminated water

A blowout at a natural gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water on Wednesday, contaminating a stream and forcing the evacuation of seven families who live nearby as crews struggled to stop the gusher.

The Chesapeake Energy Corporation lost control of the well site near Canton, in Bradford County, around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Tainted water continued to flow Wednesday afternoon, though workers finally managed to prevent any more of it from reaching the stream.
No injuries were reported, and there was no explosion or fire.
Chesapeake said a piece of equipment failed late Tuesday while the well was being hydraulically fractured, or fracked. In the fracking process, millions of gallons of water, along with chemical additives and sand, are injected at high pressure down the well bore to break up the shale and release the gas.
State environmental regulators were taking water samples from the tributary of Towanda Creek, which is stocked with trout.
The blowout comes amid a natural gas drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale formation.

April 20, 2011

Japan bans entry within 20km of Fukushima

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will officially ban the entry of residents in the 20-kilometer (12-mile) danger zone of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Kan is expected to make the announcement on Thursday when he visits Fukushima Prefecture. 

Tokyo has issued an evacuation order within the 20-km zone right after the March 11 earthquake and advised residents within the 30-km (18-mile) zone to stay indoors. The official ban seeks to strengthen government control over the area because of reports that some residents insisted on returning temporarily to retrieve their belongings and check on their farms and businesses.
Aside from residents, animal rescue organization also went into to zone to retrieve pets left behind on behalf of the animal owners. Journalists have also entered to document the site.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the stricter measure seeks to protect the health of former residents and visitors because of the high level of radiation in the vicinity as operators of the damaged Fukushima facility struggle to stabilize the plant. Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of Fukushima Daiichi, estimated it would take the company six to nine months to stabilize the nuclear facility.

It would only be after this period that the national government would decide if it would be safe for Fukushima residents to return.

Before the nuclear crisis, the area had about 78,000 residents.

Read more: http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/90045703?Japanese%20bans%20entry%20within%2020%20km%20of%20leaking%20Fukushima%20nuclear%20plant#ixzz1K7Kvc5Bd

Nuclear Output hits 4 year low

U.S. nuclear-power output remained near a 4½-year low for a third day, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
Power generation nationwide increased 57 megawatts to 72,319 megawatts, or 71 percent of capacity, according to an NRC report today and data compiled by Bloomberg. Output sank yesterday to the smallest since Oct. 22, 2006. Twenty-nine of the nation's 104 reactors were offline.
Some reactors close for maintenance and refueling during the spring and fall in the U.S., when demand for heating and cooling is lower. The outages can increase consumption of natural gas and coal to generate electricity.

Recent tornados took out power to two nuclear reactors

The weekend storm that produced deadly tornadoes over parts of North Carolina and Virginia knocked out electricity to two nuclear units at Dominion Virginia Power's Surry Power Station near Newport News.

Plant operators say that both nuclear reactors plants shut down and that 2 diesel generators operated properly and provided power to keep the reactors cool. 

Greenhouse Gas emissions hit 14 year low

EPA: 2009 greenhouse gas emissions were lowest recorded since 1995
Fewer greenhouse gases were emitted in 2009 than any year since 1995, the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday. But the agency noted that overall emissions have increased by more than 7.3 percent in the last two decades.
The EPA found that greenhouse gases emitted in the United States during 2009 decreased by 6.1 percent as compared to those emitted in 2008.
The reason? U.S. fuel consumption and electricity use went down. 
Scientists say greenhouse gas emissions are the main contributor to climate change. The EPA has moved to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but Republicans and some Democrats in Congress are trying to block the agency's authority to impose climate change rules.
The 2009 emissions represent the lowest annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions since 1995. But, EPA notes, overall emissions have increased by more than 7.3 percent from 1990 to 2009.
The data is included in EPA's annual greenhouse gas inventory, which was released Monday. It represents EPA's most up-to-date greenhouse gas emissions numbers.

Google's Betting on Green

Google's plowing $100 million into what will be the world's largest wind farm, Shepherds Flat, near Arlington, Oregon. It follows a $168 million investment in Brightsource's Ivanpah solar plantin the Mojave and brings the Mountain View company's total investments in green tech projects to over $350 million.

There are two fascinating things about Google's recent moves. First, this is money for deployment. It's project finance, not R&D. Other big tech companies like LG and Samsung have announced massive investments in green tech research, but Google is putting money to get real projects off the ground. Second, this money comes from Google, Inc, not Google.org under the RE < C program. Google expects to make money on the big projects. I couldn't get any specifics out of Parag Chokshi, clean energy public affairs spokesperson, but it's clear this isn't a charity program:
Unfortunately, we can't disclose the deal structure or potential returns for the investment. 

But overall, we certainly see renewable energy as both good for the environment and a good business opportunity. These projects — Shepherds Flat and BrightSource's Ivanpah, among the others we've invested in — can have attractive returns given the risks involved. So the money for these investments comes out of Google Inc. and as you said, we expect to generate strong financial returns. It's also great way to diversity our cash holdings while investing in an area that we think is important to support.

Dallas Kachan, who heads the clean tech research and consulting firm Kachan and Co, said that Google could expect to get something like a six percent return on its investment, though that number could vary by project.

Top 10 Reasons to Remember the BP Gulf Oil Disaster

1. BP is gunning to get back to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
2. People are sick. Of the 954 residents polled this year in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. 
3. Fish and other sea life in the Gulf are still struggling after the disaster. The death toll for dolphins and whales in the Gulf may have been 50 times higher than the number of bodies found, according to a recent paper in Conservation Letters. Earlier this year, a large number of dead dolphin calves were found on the coast, and scientists have linked many of those deaths to the oil disaster. Anglers are also reporting dark lesions, rotting fins, and discoloration in the fish they're catching in the Gulf, as the St. Petersburg Times reported last week.
4. BP got a $10 billion (yes with a B) tax credit for its cleanup costs while those most affected by the spill are still waiting for payments.
5. Congress hasn't changed a single law on oil and gas drilling in the past year.
6. GOP House members want more drilling off all our coasts with less environmental review.
7. "Fail safe" technology isn't fail safe.
See "Blowout preventers used in ALL deep water drilling are "fundamentally flawed by design" — Maddow."
8. The country's offshore regulator has a new name, but it's still got plenty of problems.
9. Fewer than half of people who have filed claims from the spill have been paid.
10. BP still doesn't want you to see its tar balls.

That's the start of a long list by Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones.
Here are Matt Yglesias's favorites:

Radiation levels in plants prevents work

Robots deployed inside two reactors at the Japanese nuclear plant overrun by last month's devastating tsunami have detected radiation levels too high for workers to enter, posing immediate challenges for a new plan to bring the ravaged complex under control by year's end.

On Sunday, two robots made their way into two of the reactor units, opening doors and navigating radioactive debris and puddles of water to return with temperature, pressure and radioactivity readings. The readings, released Monday, showed continued high radiation levels.
At Unit 1, robots detected up to 49 millisieverts per hour; at Unit 3, the reading was 57 millisieverts per hour. In recent weeks far higher readings have come from areas where contaminated water has accumulated, like the turbine building at Unit 2, where experts say the reactor pressure vessel may be cracked and leaking nuclear material.
Radiation limits for nuclear workers in the US are 50 millisieverts per year. Japan recently raised their radiation limits to 250 millisieverts per year. So current levels of radiation mean that workers are only able to work a few hours a year in the plant, raising questions about how workers will be able to bring the plant back to a cold shut-down. 
Japan outlined a timetable of between 6 to 9 months to gain control of the reactors and decontaminate the land surrounding the nuclear plant before residents will be allowed to return to their homes in the evacuation zone. 
But experts question the viability of the plan, which calls for swiftly building critical new cooling systems. Tokyo Electric faces "substantial barriers" in following the timetable, said Haruki Madarame, chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission, an independent panel of experts appointed by the government to oversee the nuclear industry.

April 18, 2011

Bill McKibben at Power Shift

Bill McKibben took the stage in front of ten thousand young people at the Power Shift conference in Washington D.C. this weekend. 
These are the students that have convinced their universities to shut down coal plants across the country. Even in the heart of coal country in places like Ohio University and Miami of Ohio. They are making a difference. 
This is the start of a movement. 
I have heard Bill give a lot of speeches - but this speech is special and truly inspiring. 
Please watch it! 

Power Shift 2011 - The start of a movement

The NY Times covered the amazing Power Shift 2011 conference this weekend. 

About 10,000 young climate change activists gathered this weekend in Washington, D.C., for what they billed as the largest grass-roots training event in the nation's history.

The third-ever Power Shift, which began Friday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and ends today, drew speeches from former Vice President Al Gore, former green jobs czar Van Jones and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. But the event's main goal was to teach young environmentalists how to organize in their communities.
"We don't want to just get 10,000 people together and get them hyped and excited," said Courtney Hight, co-director of the Energy Action Coalition, an umbrella organization of environmental groups that put on Power Shift. "You want to get them hyped and excited and then send them off to take action."
Previous Power Shifts didn't place as much of an emphasis on training as they did on having workshops explaining the impacts of obtaining natural gas through the fracturing, or "fracking," method or the benefits of sustainable living practices, Hight said. But with President Obama already in re-election campaign mode and facing a political climate that's drifting away from large-scale efforts to curb global warming, the message of the conference was direr and more immediate this time around.
At the last national Power Shift two years ago, attendees were basking in the glow of a newly elected Obama, for whose campaign many had volunteered. This weekend, many of them expressed disappointment and frustration over the president's energy policies over the past two years.
Many also acknowledged that chances for larger initiatives like last year's cap-and-trade push won't be coming back anytime soon.
"I feel like in many ways, a big opportunity was missed to do climate legislation," said Matt Kazinka, a junior environmental studies major at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. "Right now it seems like there isn't a lot of opportunity to push large-scale climate legislation through.
"But I also think it's a good moment for the climate movement to step back and say, 'Maybe right now the large-scale political approach isn't going to work,' just given what's happening," he said.
Kazinka volunteered for Obama's campaign two years ago. Now he's torn over what he sees as a lack of leadership from Obama on the issue and the reality of a political climate that's limiting the president, he said. Kazinka isn't alone.
"A part of me feels like maybe it's just politics, and he's on our side," said Abbe Schnibbe, a University of Vermont junior in environmental studies, "but maybe he has had to put things in the back burner in the partisan issues we have as opposed to the issues that we need to address."
Schnibbe said her generation, which organized for Obama and got him elected into office, still has the power to make changes.
In a speech at the event Friday night, Gore underlined the same point.
"Young people are leading this movement. You are the core of this movement," he said to a loud applause.
Gore continued: "There are four anti-climate lobbyists on Capitol Hill in this city for every single member of the House and every single member of the Senate. What is the answer for this? It has to come from you. It has to come at the grass-roots level."
Personalizing the issue
With the emphasis on organizing communities came an emphasis in shifting climate change from a global issue to a more personal, local issue.
"We have all the facts in the environmental movement, but a lot of times, you seem impersonal if all you use is facts," said Connor Klausing, a first-year student at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn. "So you have to convey the personal, in a way that's personally affecting you. And a lot of times that's a lot more effective to people."
A lot of people think of global warming as a slow process that doesn't affect them, Klausing said. A vegetarian, Klausing frames his stump speech on how the meat industry is linked to climate change by causing desertification in Africa, leaving natives of the continent living in drying environments.
But attendees were pushed to make their personal issues more local than that. Many of the environmental groups with booths at the conference reflected that push.
They ranged from the Dogwood Alliance, which launched a campaign accusing fast food giant KFC of destroying forests in the American South for its packaging material, to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which is dedicated to curbing global warming specifically in the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., area.
One organization, Mountain Justice, focuses on organizing civil disobedience actions over mountaintop-removal techniques to extract coal in Appalachia. Many of its members live near the mountains that get operated on.
"You're connected to something better in your backyard than you are 5,000 miles away," said Hight of the Energy Action Coalition.
One example she brought up was people living next to coal plants. She recently toured Little Village, a predominantly Mexican neighborhood on Chicago's West Side not far from two coal-fired power plants. At one point, Hight encountered an uncovered pile of coal ash.
"All the sudden it got windy, and I just breathed in coal ash!" she said. "And there are people that breathe it every day."
Obama surprises environmentalists with White House visit
Count Hight among the many activists at the event frustrated with Obama's track record on clean energy policies. Hight is particularly disappointed in what she calls Obama's lack of boldness on the issue. She does give him credit for a lot of things, including saving EPA funding in the budget compromise for the remainder of fiscal 2011.
She and 10 other activists from around the country attended a meeting at the White House on Friday. Hight, 31, was one of the older activists in the West Wing. Some were 18.
Going in, they thought they were only meeting with White House officials, but the president walked into the room. What resulted was a back-and-forth discussion over their differences in defining clean energy that lasted a half-hour.
The group of activists started out by thanking him on keeping EPA funded before jumping into their differences. Obama includes clean coal, natural gas and nuclear in his "clean energy economy," something the environmentalists at the meeting were at odds with.
"He said we can't just move to wind and solar. We're saying just don't call it clean. You're misrepresenting what it is," Hight said.
Like many of Power Shift's attendees, Hight played a role in his campaign. She started as a field organizer in New Hampshire in 2007 and later became the youth director in Florida during the general election. In the early months of the administration, she worked for the Council on Environmental Quality.
Friday marked the first time Hight ever pressured Obama politically, she said. Earlier that day, The Washington Post quoted her with statements critical of Obama's energy policy. Obama wasn't pleased with them, she said.
But the meeting ended with Obama acknowledging that it's his role to govern and the activists' role to pressure him, Hight said.
"We brought him in office so he could do amazing things, and he's done amazing things, but he's going to have to scale it up in the face of challenges," she said. "And we're scaling it up, too; we're not just telling him to do it."

Weather Forecasting Satellites Cut

The NY Times reports that the budget deal moving through Capitol Hill slashes funds for a satellite program considered vital for the nation's weather forecasting.

Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, warned at a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the cutbacks would probably lead to a serious gap in satellite data, undermining National Weather Service forecasts.

Dr. Lubchenco warned that even if Congress restarted the program, the government would probably wind up spending $3 or $4 for every dollar saved by halting it this year. "We have to cancel the contracts — we have to let people go," she said. "These are very sophisticated, skilled workers. Then you need to bring the programs back up."
Satellites and other government-run instruments provide virtually all weather data used to make forecasts in the United States, including those on television, radio and in newspapers. Like all satellites, weather satellites wear out and have to be replaced regularly. Planning and building them takes years, and any hiccup in that program means the government can lose access to vital data a few years down the road.
Inaccurate weather forecasts regarding major weather events like hurricanes and tornados can lead to serious loss of life and property damage. 
The satellites are yet one more target of the anti-global warming lawmakers who have decided they would rather not fund weather satellites that provide much of the data used by climate scientists. 

BP Oil Disaster - One Year Later

The NY Times reports that a year has passed since BP's Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 rig workers and launching the nation's worst oil spill -- and an all-encompassing environmental drama that played out for months as the oil industry and federal government struggled to contain the gusher.

A year after the blowout, members of Congress have made little progress toward addressing the issues raised by the disaster.
The reasons for their lassitude are numerous.
Chief among them is the highly partisan environment on Capitol Hill, where a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate struggles to find common ground with the overwhelmingly Republican House.
"We haven't responded because of the general polarization that has affected us in the last few months," said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).
Still, the lack of progress on a congressional spill response is not sitting well with many in the environmental community.
"I don't think anybody in Congress has a legitimate excuse for the fact that they've done nothing to respond to the worst environmental disaster this nation has ever seen," said Regan Nelson, senior oceans advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Nor has it quelled the concerns of some of the staunchest environmental Democrats on Capitol Hill.
"We should have moved last year. We need a response," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.