Friday, June 30, 2006

Leaked G8 Memo Calls for More Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power

Rising Tide/UK
June 30, 2006

Activists have called for an International Day of Action Against Climate Change July 15, 2006. On that day, the “Group of 8” (G8) — leaders of the richest industrialized countries — will gather in St. Petersburg, Russia to plot their continued commodification and domination of the planet, this time under the banner of “Energy Security.” And, perhaps, thousands of people in cities and towns across the globe will rise up to demand alternatives to fossil fuels and zero emissions of greenhosue gases. It’s up to you — now is the time to link up with others in your area and make something happen July 15.

A leaked G8 Communiqué on Energy Security calls for trillions of dollars in new investments in oil, gas and coal production worldwide, plus wide-scale global expansion of nuclear energy. In other words, just as most regular folks are concluding that continued human dependence on fossil fuels risks the earth’s ability to support life as we know it, the leaders are plotting more of the same.

It’s going to be a long, hot summer with ever wilder weather extremes — all the hotter as millions of cars spew millions more tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. The world leaders should feel the heat, too. Each additional day of business as usual the earth is moving one step closer to what scientists refer to as “the tipping point” — after which human-caused climate change will become irreversible and natural feedback loops such as melting ice sheets may accelerate climate change and cause permanent climate chaos.

A call to action issued by Rising Tide North America and Earth First! notes: “With runaway climate change looming just over the horizon, such neoliberal business-as-usual poses a direct threat to the continuation of life on Earth as we know it. Resistance is self defense. The G8 agenda promotes petroleum-dependent ‘Energy Security’ that pollutes our land and atmosphere, ravages poor and indigenous communities, and scorches the Earth’s climate. Their recipe for disaster must be met with our global opposition! As G8 energy ministers promise trillions in new subsidies to the industries destroying our planet and our future, we will take action to shut them down!

“This is a call for autonomous, decentralized actions appropriate for your town, city, or bioregion. Use this international day of action to support local struggles against oil refineries, gas pipelines, strip mines and coal-fired power plants. Disrupt the financial backers of the fossil fuel industry. Host teach-ins to spread sustainable post-petroleum living skills. Find a weak point in the infrastructure of resource exploitation and throw a literal or symbolic wrench in the works. Visit your local polluters and give ‘em hell!”

Zero Emissions

Ultimately, all mainstream discussion of efforts to limit global climate change propose solutions that are far too little and too late. Proposals like the Kyoto Treaty which would cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels for industrialized countries, or initiatives to create markets to trade carbon credits, or efforts to invent machines that are still dependent on fossil fuels but that use less of them all miss the point. The only way to step back from the climate change cliff is to quickly go cold turkey on fossil fuels and reach zero net human emissions of greenhouse gases. Virtually no mainstream politician or media outlet is calling for a zero emissions goal — “unrealistic”, they say. “It would hurt the economy too much.”

But from an ecological standpoint, zero emissions has to become realistic. Shifting to a zero emissions world requires not just lobbying and government reform, but a wholesale paradigm shift.

Many people hope that technological break-throughs will allow society to eliminate fossil fuel use without requiring anyone to change their life style. The current craze for hybrid or biofueled cars is a perfect example— people want to figure out a way to keep living in an instant, motorized, convenient world but not feel bad about the environmental consequences. But it is far from clear that people in the developed world can continue energy intensive life-styles in an environmentally sustainable fashion — even less clear that energy business as usual is possible if modern forms of life are extended world-wide.

And for every alternative energy source that has promise — like wind or solar — capitalism spews out ten times as many fake solutions that pretend to be “green” but really secretly depend on fossil fuels. In the struggle for a zero emissions world, it is crucial that people learn to sort all the confusing “alternatives” and compare them against each other. It doesn’t help to compare a real option against a false options. It is a matter of comparing apples to apples rather than apples to oranges.

For example, windmills are a zero emissions technology. All over the country construction of windmills is running into opposition because people are concerned with appearance issues. They make an incorrect comparison of “windmill vs. no windmills” instead of a more correct comparison of “windmill vs. coal fired power plant.” Strip mines and the global warming caused by burning coal have very negative consequences, but they are rarely included in the windmill debate because their effects are elsewhere or defuse and harder to recognize. The failure to compare the alternatives is a very common problem when thinking about environmental issues.

Anytime a solution promises “less” fossil fuel consumption, be suspicious! Less emissions are still emissions — the real goal is zero emissions.

Bio-fuels like biodiesel and ethanol are perfect examples: both require massive inputs of fossil fuels (for machines and fertilizer) to grow the biofuel crops and then more fossil fuels to transport and process the fuels. They are thus far from zero emissions options — they just shift the fossil fuel dependence from where you can see it (at the gas pump) to somewhere else.

Hybrid cars are even more absurd as a “solution” to climate change. They may reduce emissions by 50%, but that means they still emit 50% of the greenhouse gases of a regular car. They prop-up the fossil fuel addiction and greenwash it.

Hydrogen powered machines are another complex alternative. Hydrogen gas burns without creating any greenhouse gases — water is the only exhaust. However, most hydrogen available at the moment is created from natural gas in a process that releases CO2. Thus, “clean” hydrogen at the moment is no better than burning natural gas, which is none too good.

Of course, it might be possible to produce hydrogen with power from windmills, and it might be possible to produce some bio-diesel using organic agriculture and bio-diesel powered tractors — thus closing the loop. But until that is done, these alternatives are fake. And when you hear the factory farm giant ADM and the Bush administration pushing bio-fuels, you have to figure that closing the loop and creating a real alternative isn’t the main goal — greenwashing and making profit are.

Many people who claim to be concerned with climate change are also pushing an expansion of nuclear power which — although it does not produce greenhouse gases — is hardly a sustainable solution. There is still no way to safely dispose of nuclear waste that will take thousands of years to decay. In addition, mining and processing uranium as well as building multi-billion dollar nuclear power plants all emits tons of green house gases.

Personal is political

Effectively challenging global climate change — or even figuring out constructive ways to think about it without getting mired in guilt or despair — can be very difficult. Whether we like it or not — with or without our consent — practically everything people do if they live in the developed world depends on fossil fuels. Getting up in the morning, obtaining food, communicating, moving about, even publishing Slingshot contributes to climate change.

As more and more people become aware of the risks of global climate change, some people wish on an isolated, individual level that they could get by without constantly creating greenhouse gases — thus the emotional power of hybrid or biodiesel cars in some circles. But fossil fuels are so integrated into our lives that real change can seem overwhelming or even impossible.

Corporations and government policies maintain dependence on fossil fuels, but the uncomfortable truth is that rejecting fossil fuels requires change on an individual level as well as on a structural level. Everyone who has grown up with modern conveniences like cars, refrigerators, clothes dryers, running hot water, etc. feels on some level entitled to these uses of energy, and almost everyone in the developing world who grew up without these options wants them.

If a popular movement to address climate change has any chance of success, it has to get beyond absurd band aid solutions like nuclear power, hybrid cars and other “alternatives” that continue a resource extraction model without taking a guilt-based approach that blames people for living within a system not of their own creation. At the same time, a movement that always seeks to blame someone else for global climate change — never allowing that on some level, all of us are involved in what is going on — is doomed.

In the 1970s, the women’s movement expanded by convening thousands of consciousness raising groups — support groups that helped the participants understand and attack patriarchy both on a personal and political level. These groups offered personal, psychological and social support for experimentation, struggle and change.

Changing a system that is cultural, political and personal requires more than just global days of action. Its going to require mutual support to help people move beyond the overwhelmingness of global climate change that paralyses people into inaction or causes them to grasp at fake solutions.

Perhaps climate change support groups could help people deal with the complex social, cultural and psychological barriers to change in the way people relate to technology and the environment. These groups could allow people to support each other through these changes. These groups could also provide crucial, decentralized, local research to help sort out all the proposed “solutions” to green house gas emitting technology and expose fake solutions. For example, when considering a particular technology with respect to climate change, such groups could look at all the costs and benefits:

• Does society really need the technology in the first place, and if so, why? For instance, why use a clothes dryer instead of a clothes line on a nice day?

• What are all alternatives to the technology and what are their problems? For example, if a particular development isn’t built as urban infill in Berkeley, will the people who would have lived there be forced to live in an even less ecologically viable suburban developments built on greenfields two hours from jobs?

• Compare the alternatives to each other to figure out the best one. Avoid concluding that any alternative to a current technology which is slightly better is a real “alternative.” An alternative solves a problem rather than slows it down.

It is possible for the world to attain zero emissions, but it will require a global mobilization on a mass scale — something like the way that the life of the whole world changed during World War II. Factories were converted to war production, cultural norms altered and new technologies quickly created. Using a war as a model for a conversion to zero emissions is plenty problematic, but the point is that if climate change was recognized as a crisis of global and historical proportions, the solutions could move beyond band aids and fake, green washing ploys and on to real solutions.

Every year hundreds of billions of dollars are invested in new fossil fuel infrastructure — drilling, pipelines, ships, refineries, etc. — to say nothing of millions of new cars built every year. All these investments make the fossil fuel industry and the governments they control even more resistant to alternatives because companies want to reap the profits of their investments.

Meanwhile, alternative energy projects like windmills or solar power feel lucky if they get a few millions in investments. What if all the money invested in fossil fuel infrastructure was channeled into wind and solar energy projects? A lot of alternatives that seem “unrealistic” might seem a bit more realistic if they were taken as seriously as fossil fuels always are.

Contact Info

Rising Tide North America is a new network initiated in the US by the Earth First! Climate Caucus, with inspiration and support from the UK’s Rising Tide direct action movement for climate justice and against climate change ( For info or to register a local action, email efclimatecaucus or

As the World Melts

By John Gartner
Jun, 30, 2006

It's no secret that the Earth is getting hot. A recent National Academy of Sciences study finds that the warming of the northern hemisphere in the last decades of the 20th century was unprecedented in the past thousand years.

Most experts studying the recent climate history agree that human activities -- mainly the release of heat-trapping gases from smokestacks, tailpipes and burning forests -- are probably to blame.

Without big curbs in greenhouse-gas emissions, climate change could lead to continued temperature increases, dramatic shifts in weather patterns, shrinking ice sheets and rising seas. These changes could spell catastrophe for most of the world's glaciers and threaten supplies of fresh water in the most populous regions on Earth.

Wired News spoke with Lonnie Thompson, an Ohio State University professor and paleoclimatologist who has spent the last 31 years studying the ice fields atop many of the world's highest peaks. Thompson analyzes the long frozen ice cores stored within glaciers to discover how the chemical composition of the Earth's atmosphere has changed since the last ice age, and how it affects the climate.

Wired News: What is paleoclimatology and how did you become interested in it?

Lonnie Thompson: Paleoclimatology is the study of the past climate of the Earth as it is recorded in various recorders such as lake sediments, corals and ice. During my first year (at Ohio State University) I saw an opening in the Institute of Polar Studies to look at ice cores. I had dismissed glaciers as not important because they only cover 10 percent of the Earth's surface and few people live there, but I took the job because I wanted a research position.

WN: What can you learn from studying ice cores obtained from glaciers at high altitudes that you can't from exploring the polar regions?

LT: The Earth is a sphere, and 50 percent of the surface area is located in the tropics between 30 degrees north and south, and 70 percent of the people on the planet live there. Some of the big climate forcings, such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation events and changes in monsoon seasons, are tropical phenomenon, so to get the long-term history you have to look at the archive in the tropical locations.

Only by looking at the past and documenting the natural changes can we get the real perspective on how unusual today's climate is.

WN: What does the chemical composition of an ice core tell us about historical climate change?

LT: Learning about yearly changes in climate enables us to recover the history from where we have virtually no written records and understand how the climate system has changed between the last ice age (over 10,000 years ago) and now. We can see the temperature changes between summer and winter and at different latitudes across the planet.

The air bubbles trapped in the ice cores tell us a history of the composition of Earth's atmosphere and give us a time perspective of the CO2, methane, and nitric oxides that we are concerned about today. The cores are also archives of the chemistry of the atmosphere. You can see when lead was put into the gasoline, and when it was later taken out. We use the archive to document how the climate varied before humans became a major factor.

WN: How do you obtain the ice core samples and what technology do you use to analyze them?

LT: We drill though hundreds of meters of ice to get to the cores that have been frozen underneath for many years. The challenge is keeping the cores frozen until they get back to the university.

At Ohio State we … use mass spectrometers to analyze the isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen that make up the molecules of water. Chemistry on these same samples is measured using an ion chromography while dust is measured with a particle counter. We have the only archive of tropical ice cores, which is important because many of these glaciers will melt within the next 15 years.

WN: How have your expeditions changed your understanding of the Earth's temperature fluctuations?

LT: When CO2 was lower in the past, such as at 180 ppm (parts per million of the atmosphere), the Earth was in the grips of an ice age. During warm periods, CO2 rose to about 280 ppm…. We are currently at 380 ppm of CO2, and there is no analogy for this.

In the tropics what has happened in the past few years for snow melt is very unusual in the last 2,000 years where we have this detailed history. The ice fields in the Himalayas in Asia and the Andes in Peru are retreating at an accelerated rate. For example, the rate of retreat at the Quelccaya ice cap was 6 meters per year from 1963 to 1978, but from 1991 to 2005 it is retreating at 60 meters per year. The melting there has uncovered plants, that through carbon dating, we realize have been frozen for more than 6,500 years, which tells us the last time the ice fields were this small.

WN: Based on your research of studying climate change, how do you expect the weather patterns to change during the next 20 years?

LT: The changes in the greenhouse gas composition indicate that we are in for some marked changes. We don't know the specific areas, the magnitude of the changes or the timing. But it's similar to when you go to the doctor and he says that you have a high blood pressure and are subject to a heart attack. He's not going to tell you when that is going to occur, but the symptoms are so pervasive that you know you are at risk.

We have already built in an additional rise in temperature of 0.6 degrees centigrade, which is causing the glaciers to disappear. The melting in the Himalayas has tremendous implications for the 2 to 3 billion people who live downstream from rivers such as the Ganges, Indus and Yangtze that are fed by the glaciers there. These people will have less water to use as a municipal source and for hydropower and irrigation. The scary thing is the impact of the climate changes that we don't know, for example, how it will affect the insects that inhabit and can devastate our forests.

WN: Skeptics of global warming say the current warming trend is just another cyclical fluctuation and not from our use of fossil fuels. How do you respond to that?

LT: When you look at the history of CO2, methane and nitric oxide in the atmosphere, the levels are not something that we have seen in the long history of our ice cores now spanning over 650,000 years. Sure, the temperature of the planet has changed in the past with ice ages.... But these changes in climate were slow, while what we are seeing right now is a rapid change.

Now the increase of greenhouse gases and land-usage changes have a tremendous impact on the planet, so we have to be very careful how much we tweak the system. With 6.5 billion people living on the planet, even the natural variations will have tremendous economic impact on all of us.

WN: Is it true you don't like mountain climbing?

LT: Yes that's right. I've learned only what I have to learn to get to our field sites. For these projects we have to move six tons of equipment up to the summit of these mountain ranges, and to do this we often have to cross crevasse fields and avalanche fields, so we need to know mountaineering in order to minimize the risks in getting the crew in and out and the ice cores out.

What makes us different from mountaineers is that we look for the easiest and safest way to get to where we need to be in order to recover the cores.

Financial State of the Renewable Energy Industry Experiencing Accelerated Growth

Press Release from American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE)
June 29, 2006

Washington, DC - Over 600 top renewable energy CEOs, investors and developers met at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum - Wall Street last week to discuss the financing of windpower, solar energy and biofuels. The industry has been experiencing the accelerated growth that has been predicted for three decades. Windpower is a global market surging ahead. Solar PV is a booming high tech industry. Biofuels is taking off this year with rapid expansion to the limits of the industry to build the facilities.

The Honorable Alexander Karsner, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, US Department of Energy opened the event communicating that the federal government has not done well at the task of putting renewable energy technologies into use in our country. He stated that, "I have come into government from the private sector to build a stronger relationship between the DOE and the private sector."

The keynote speech was by Governor Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania who said, "While there is a definite lack of leadership on energy and the environment at the federal level, I am seeing more and more governors defining smart strategies for their states, and working together on regional plans." He called on the Federal government for better leadership, saying that, "This is not just a nice thing to do, it is imperative, it is central, and it is urgent."

The conference continued for two days, covering trends in financing solar, wind and biofuels plus sessions on project finance, private equity and public capital markets.

Erik Thorsen, President and CEO, Renewable Energy Corporation, reported that the company had completed its IPO successfully on May 19, raising over $1 Billion in an offering that was 22 times oversubscribed. His company has an "upstream" strategy that has proven to be very timely considering the recent and ongoing shortage of raw material silicon. "In the next several years, the cost of solar can be half of what it is today," stated Thorsen.

"While biodiesel costs more today than petroleum-based diesel, this has the ability to change with advanced technology, volume production, and incentives," said Martin Tobias, CEO & Chairman, Imperium Renewables. He went on to describe Imperium's strategy for developing a biodiesel production facility and business, indicating that, "The potential was enormous."

Per Hornung Pedersen, CEO, Suzlon Energy A/S stated that the wind industry is seeking the right business model, securing the right product quality and less exposure to component shortage with the paradigm between in-sourcing and outsourcing still seems to be unsolved. Pedersen said that, "The team at Suzlon strongly believes that backward integration is the best way to secure the right product quality, achieved through access to R&D capabilities throughout the entire value chain. Furthermore this approach enables us to eradicate component shortages."

Other sectors in the financial industry are seeing the possibilities in investing in renewables. "There are a range of capital markets open for renewable energy projects, and the project finance markets have never been more supportive," said John Anderson, Head of Power Finance, John Hancock Financial Services.

Bruce Usher, CEO, EcoSecurities added that, "The climate change sector is well-positioned for the IPO market, but investors are cautious on valuation analysis in this sector." It is clear that the industry needs steady hands managing the growth in a financial responsible manner.

Overall, many in the renewable finance community agreed with Dr. Shi Zhengrong, Founder & CEO, Suntech, who stated that, "The industry will advance in efficiency and continue down the cost curve in the upcoming years. The present growth, which has come on very rapidly, indicates that the move towards renewables has finally begun. Consequently, the role of Wall Street has never been more important and many anticipate the advances leading up to next June's REFF-Wall Street 2007."

REFF-Wall Street 2006 was supported by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC), National Hydropower Association (NHA), Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and US Energy Association.

Conference co-chairs were Nancy Floyd, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Nth Power; Ken Locklin, Director, Massachusetts Green Energy Fund; Dan W. Reicher, Founder and President, New Energy Capital; and Michael D. Ware, Managing Director, Advance Capital Markets Inc.

About American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE)

ACORE, a 501(c)(3) membership nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC, is dedicated to bringing renewable energy into the mainstream of the US economy and lifestyle through information and communications programs. ACORE provides a common platform for the wide range of interests in the renewable energy community including renewable energy industries, associations, utilities, end users, professional service firms, financial institutions and government agencies. ACORE serves as a forum through which these parties work together on common interests. Membership information is available at:

About Euromoney Energy Events

Euromoney Energy Events (EEE) is a London-based wholly owned subsidiary of Euromoney Institutional Investor PLC, the publisher of Institutional Investor, Project Finance, Power Finance & Risk, Renewable Finance and other global publications. EEE's diverse range of conferences address topical issues in the energy sector, with a focus on financial and commercial aspects, in a portfolio that ranges across Renewable Energy, Waste, Nuclear, LNG and Emissions. EEE also is the organizer of the Renewable Energy Finance Forum held every September in London.

For additional information about Renewable Energy Finance Forum - Wall Street 2007, visit:

New Report Details Safer Chemicals Use by Six Major Companies


NEW YORK, June 29, 2006 - A new study illuminates how some companies are working to eliminate toxic chemicals and materials in their products and building materials. The report, Healthy Business Strategies for Transforming the Toxic Chemical Economy, by the nonprofit Clean Production Action (CPA), profiles the toxics-reduction efforts by Avalon Natural Products, Dell Inc., H&M, Herman Miller, Interface, and Kaiser Permanente.

CPA's research director, Mark Rossi states, "Our report draws attention to how each of these companies has embarked on the journey to green chemistry and healthy materials. Each shows us in their own distinctive way that it's important to work towards a cleaner future by taking action today."

The report highlights a cross-section of products including famous Herman Miller ergonomic, yet sleek office chairs, H&M's affordable fashion-forward clothing, and the nontoxic carpet specially commissioned by Kaiser Permanente for its hospitals. CPA hopes that by showing a broad range of company products and innovative approaches to using safer chemicals other companies will adopt similar practices such as conducting internal hazard assessments, investing in plant-based materials, applying green chemistry and green engineering principles and making safe chemicals research and production a priority within their supply chains.

Each company in the report shows leadership initiative in its efforts to ban hazards from its products, and investment in protecting and enhancing its brand.

According to Mark Newton, Dell Senior Consultant for Environmental Policy and Global Requirements, the company's chemicals management system is the first step in a long journey towards responsible chemical management: "We and the others in our industry realize we are at the beginning of a long journey. As a relatively young industry we’re learning quickly how to meet both business and environmental goals and how to effectively manage these issues with our supply chain."

All of the companies’ investments are paying off in different ways: from cost savings and the creation of new sub-markets to product differentiation, reduced reputation risk and improved quality. For companies seeking similar results, their efforts show a clear path for corporations to better manage chemicals in their supply chains and products, according to the report.

According to Interface director of environmental management, Wendy Porter, who helped design a plant-based office fabric using safe dyes, "Our unique knowledge gives our salesperson an edge over the competition. We even get inquiries from our competitors, who want to know if certain chemicals are okay to use."

Cleaner products make for healthier homes and families, says Avalon Vice President Morris Shriftman. "We want our customers to be conscious of what they put on their skin," she says. “We want them to understand that it’s not just about the small amount of a chemical in a single cosmetic. It’s about the cumulative risk for a woman applying and re-applying cosmetics 15, 20, even 25 times in a single day -- shower gels, cleansers, toners, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, mascara, lipstick, deodorants, creams with penetration enhancers, and so on.”

The report also highlights the importance of partnering with companies that share the same commitment. When Kaiser Permanente decided it needed to use carpets that were both PVC-free and met its criteria for hospital use it discovered that no such carpet met its demanding specifications. Not willing to compromise, Kaiser Permanente decided to develop a new product that not only met its needs, but was also manufactured by a company that would fulfill the environmental commitments that Kaiser Permanente had made. Tom Cooper of Kaiser Permanente’s Standards, Planning, and Design team emphasized, “Partnering is about dialogue, finding shared interests, and moving forward with better products.”

“Rather than continuing to take an approach that is problem-focused (for example, eliminating mercury or PVC), we want our work to be solution-focused,” emphasized Lynn Garske, Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship manager. “Our aspiration is to provide health care services in a manner that enhances the environment and communities now and for future generations.”

H&M found that if you tell the world your product does not contain a chemical, you cannot compromise. The company stayed true to its progressive chemical policy when they had to pull a highly marketed item during its 2002 Christmas underwear campaign. With a marketing campaign using famous models posing in H&M underwear already underway, the company found that the sequins used to decorate some underwear products contained PVC. Chemists and quality control had missed the 100% PVC sequins because, up until that point, all PVC uses were in soft plastics. H&M’s Corporate Responsibility department convinced the company to drop the product.

Herman Miller’s products remind us that the real opportunities for safe products begin at the design stage. “Only by incorporating environment into design,” explains Don Goeman, executive vice president for Research, Design and Development at Herman Miller, “can we create value rather than cost.” This company has made Design for Environment a priority since 1953 and has continued to push the boundaries of corporate responsibility by demanding full and transparent chemicals data from their suppliers to developing their own rigorous scoring and grading system for materials used in their many furnishings. The company intends to maintain its trajectory by setting itself a goal that 50% of all sales in 2010 must be from products that meet their Design for Environment and green chemicals protocol.

These six well-known companies are proof that safer chemicals use in products is a goal whose time has come, the report concludes. The case studies show how different tools and approaches can be used -- but there must be commitment that the effort will be worth the price.

A free copy of the report can be downloaded in MS Word format online.

Celebrate Independents Week By Buying Locally and Helping the Environnment!

Green Counsel
Stephen Filler
June 28, 2006

The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) is celebrating "Independents Week" by asking people to take the Indie Challenge by purchasing as much as possible from your community's independently-owned businesses July 1-7.

AMIBA points out that buying locally keeps your money circulating in your community three times longer than buying at chains where most of it it leaves the community immediately. Buying locally also helps the environment by reducing supply chains (and corresponding transportation/green house gas emissions). "Locavores" -- a group that promotes eating locally -- publishes a list of "Top Twelve Reasons to Eat Locally" that includes freshness, taste, nutrition, purity, regional economic health, variety, soil stewardship, energy conservation, environmental protection, and cost.

Participants in "Independents Week" include the American Booksellers Association, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), Association of Retail Travel Agents, Coalition of Independent Music Stores, Council of Independent Restaurants of America, Institute for Local Self-Reliance/New Rules Project, National Grocers Association (NGA) and National Main Streets Center/National Trust for Historic Preservation.

To register your community, go here. For more information on purchasing localy, see AMIBA's "The Benefits of Doing Business Locally."

MIT Technology May Make Batteries Obsolete

Boston Globe
June 28, 2006

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think they're on the verge of making traditional batteries obsolete.

The researchers are working on a new device that uses carbon nanotubes to store and release electrical energy in a system that could carry as much power as today's lead or lithium batteries.

But unlike the rechargeable batteries used on today's cellphones and laptop computers, these devices could be recharged hundreds of thousands of times before wearing out.

And instead of taking hours to recharge, they could be powered up in about the same time it takes to fill up a gas tank.

Electronics professor Joel Schindall drives a Toyota hybrid car, which uses an electric battery to reduce gasoline consumption. But Schindall would prefer an all-electric car, and he thinks his team's research could finally make such vehicles practical.

In a basement laboratory at MIT, Schindall and his colleagues are using acetylene gas to deposit carbon nanotubes on pieces of silicon. Schindall says that the technology isn't much different from the kind used to produce microchips, and so mass production shouldn't be too difficult. Still, he said, "It's one thing to postulate it, but that's a long way from being commercially viable and competitive in price." Schindall says he hopes to have a finished example by the fall.

The device being developed at MIT's Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems isn't a battery, but a capacitor -- a device that's already used in nearly every electronic product on the planet. When plugged into an electrical circuit, a capacitor briefly stores incoming electricity, they releases it at a predictable rate. Capacitors can't store very much power, compared to traditional batteries. But while it takes hours to recharge a battery, capacitors charge almost instantly. And while most batteries can only be recharged a few hundred or thousand times before wearing out, capacitors can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times.

During the 1960s, scientists discovered that they could make more powerful capacitors by coating their electrodes with finely ground charcoal -- a form of carbon. The charcoal crystals greatly increased the surface area of each electrode, allowing it to collect a greater electrical charge.

Since then, scientists have learned how to grow carbon nanotubes -- extremely thin fibers of pure carbon. Schindall and his colleagues realized that millions of tiny nanotubes would do a much better job than ground charcoal in expanding an electrode's surface area. And if the nanotube-coated electrodes were made large enough, you could build a capacitor that could work like a battery with enough power to drive a device for hours.

Not everybody is convinced that Schindall's super capacitors will deliver as much power as he claims.

Andrew Burke, research engineer at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis, said that the new capacitors would have to be many times more powerful than any previously created. "I have a lot of respect for those guys, but I have not seen any data," Burke said. "Until I see the data, I'm inclined to be skeptical."

Even if Schindall's capacitors work, he doubts they'll transform the electronics industry overnight. Companies have too much invested in today's battery systems, and it would take years before carbon nanotube capacitors could be mass-produced.

"I think that in five years, you could see limited use," Schindall said. "Then in 10 years, you begin to see the cost crossover point," when capacitors become as cheap as standard rechargeable batteries.

Calls grow louder in Congress to revamp US energy policy

Christian Science Monitor
Brad Knickerbocker
June 28, 2006

Everybody, it seems, is scrambling to remake America's energy policy - proposing ways to reduce US dependence on foreign oil while addressing the environmental aspects of energy production, distribution, and use.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, touting a raft of proposals, have declared this to be "energy week." Governors around the country have entered the fray, some with suits against the government for energy-related pollution. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just approved what will be the first license for a commercial nuclear facility in 30 years.

But the real push for revamping energy policy - just a year after the US enacted its first major energy bill in more than a decade - is coming from the grass-roots and lobbyists. Citizen groups and special interests are pushing for solutions as fuel prices remain high and turmoil continues in oil-rich parts of the world.

"There's tremendous pressure to do something," says Sierra Club energy specialist Melinda Pierce.

In all, 477 energy-related bills have been introduced in this Congress, according to a New York Times report. But many of those proposals involve increasing domestic energy production rather than the conservation and renewables that environmentalists prefer.

For example: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week is hearing testimony on oil and gas drilling in the Rocky Mountain region and on the permitting process for new refineries.

In the House of Representatives, legislation lifting the 25-year moratorium on off-shore drilling passed the resources committee 29-9 last week, and is expected to face a full House vote Thursday.

"Studies indicate that natural gas from the Outer Continental Shelf [OCS] could provide the US with about 25 years of natural gas supply," says Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.

Environmentalists say the industry already has access to most OCS gas resources. They warn of erosion of state jurisdiction and pollution disasters.

"We're going to do everything we can to stop it," says Ms. Pierce of the Sierra Club.

Other legislation is meant to fill in the blanks or change certain features of the heavily compromised bill enacted last year.

The recently proposed bipartisan "Enhanced Energy Security Act" would speed up the development of new vehicle technologies such as plug-in hybrids; provide loan guarantees and grants to auto and parts manufacturers converting to fuel-efficient vehicles; increase funding for gas stations that sell alternatives such as E85 (which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline); and provide incentives for production of cellulosic ethanol, which is made from agricultural plant waste, sawdust, switch grass, and other substances, rather than corn or other grains.

Other lawmakers are pushing a different kind of energy future.

Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts outlined in Boston Monday what he called "the three big steps that are imperative to addressing global warming and transitioning to dependence on homegrown sources of energy."

Mr. Kerry's plan includes freezing greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, then reducing those to 65 percent below 2000 levels by 2050; mandatory reductions in US oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels a day by 2015 (the amount currently imported from the Persian Gulf); and "immediately" expanding the production of renewable vehicle fuel.

In the states, some governors are coming up with their own plans, banding together to promote more energy conservation and efficiency than the federal government requires. In the West especially, governors of both parties are pushing wind energy.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted a license for construction of the $1.5 billion enriched uranium manufacturing facility. It "will mean ... the renaissance of nuclear energy in this country," says Sen. Pete Domenici (R) of New Mexico.

Even the US Supreme Court has jumped on the issue, agreeing this week to consider a case involving greenhouse gases (most of which come from motor vehicles and power plants).

In a way, the story is not new. "As national policy obsessions go, America's oil dependence has been one of our most enduring," Jason Grumet, executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month.

How many of those 477 energy-related bills introduced in this Congress get serious consideration is another matter.

"Time is running out in this Congress to take action on energy," Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico said in introducing the Enhanced Energy Security Act. The summer break looms, then campaigning for the November election.

House Favors Drilling Closer to Coastlines

Blethen Maine Newspapers
Bart Jansen
June 30, 2006

WASHINGTON — Drilling for oil and natural gas would be allowed 50 miles off Maine's coast for the first time in nearly a quarter-century under legislation approved Thursday in the House. The bill's prospects remain uncertain, however, because of a threatened filibuster in the Senate. Also, the House measure would give states power to push their boundaries out to 100 miles or authorize drilling less than 50 miles from shore.

Drilling has been prohibited within 200 miles of the shore under annual provisions in spending bills. The ban on drilling in what is called the Outer Continental Shelf began off the coast of California in 1982 and included New England two years later.

But the House voted 232-187 Thursday to allow drilling, which is expected to occur primarily in the Gulf of Mexico. Reps. Tom Allen and Mike Michaud, both D-Maine, voted against the bill, citing concerns that accidents could hurt tourism and commercial fishing.

"The heart of this bill is to drive states to allow drilling offshore," Allen said. "We don't need to do that, at least at this stage."

Michaud criticized the Republican president and congressional leadership for failing to reduce consumption of fossil fuels rather than propose more drilling.

"The congressional leadership has once again threatened Maine's tourist and fishing industries with an ill-advised plan for coastal drilling," he said.

Conservationists and other critics of coastal drilling fear that accidental spills could spoil commercial fishing and tourism and affect public health in Maine. Advocacy groups opposed to the legislation include the League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.

Despite House approval, Florida's two senators - Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Mel Martinez - vowed to filibuster the legislation. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both R-Maine, also oppose lifting the drilling ban.

The House bill would allow drilling from 50 to 200 miles of shore, though states could set the limit at 100 miles - or under 50 - by voting to do so every five years.

Muddying the debate is the fact that former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton each signed executive orders similar to the existing 200-mile moratorium. The order is set to expire in 2011, though President Bush could abolish it at any time without a congressional vote.

Waters covered by the ban hold 19 billion of the 86 billion barrels of oil thought to lie beneath the Outer Continental Shelf, and 86 trillion of the 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service.

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., who drafted the bill as chairman of the Resources Committee, said oil and gas deposits can be developed while protecting the environment. "It's time to stop saying no."

He broadened the legislation's appeal by changing the way revenue from federal oil and gas royalties would be shared with states. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill would funnel $20.6 billion to states from now until 2017, with all but $1.7 billion going to four states that already have drilling: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

"This bill will spur an immediate debate on the state level regarding the safety, feasibility and necessity of offshore energy production," said Rep. John E. Peterson, R-Pa.

But California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opposed the legislation. Officials from other states with beaches, including New Jersey and Delaware, opposed the legislation as a threat to their multibillion-dollar tourism industries

"How do we opt out when New York or Virginia has a spill and it comes to our shores?" said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. "It would devastate our tourism."

About 3 million gallons of oil spilled from offshore oil and gas wells in 73 incidents from 1980 to 1999, according to a federal Minerals Management Service report. Decades ago, major oil spills occurred from offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and along the California coast.

Although drilling isn't expected immediately in Maine waters, the concern among lawmakers and conservationists is that a spill would taint fisheries. A spill within the Gulf Stream off the East Coast could move as far as 140 miles in 24 hours, the Sierra Club warned, based on a University of Miami study.

"Oil and gas drilling threatens to destroy a way of life in Maine's coastal communities," said Matthew Davis, a spokesman for Environment Maine.

Washington Correspondent Bart Jansen can be contacted at (202) 488-1119 or at:

Flex Fuel Fuzzy Math

The American Spectator
By Eric Peters
Published 6/28/2006 12:06:42 AM

The sticker looks mighty tempting -- a full-size, seven-passenger SUV with a V-8 engine rated at a hybrid-like 33 mpg!

Too bad it's a sham.

Unfortunately, the shuck and jive isn't well-known, or apparent to consumers -- who might be gulled into believing they're helping cut down on energy consumption (and saving the planet to boot) when in fact all they're doing is supporting the latest government boondoggle for the sole and exclusive benefit of the politically powerful ethanol lobby.

Here's how it works:

Under the cover of promoting "renewable" energy, the federal government has put into place a loophole in its Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) requirements that distorts the truth about a vehicle's actual mileage capability -- if it's a vehicle made to run on both gasoline or a gasoline-ethanol blend known as E85. Such "flex fuel" vehicles are credited with much higher miles-per-gallon capability than they actually get -- on the theory that when they burn E85 they are using less gas. Thus, a full-size, V-8 powered SUV like the GMC Yukon is rated at 33 mpg for CAFE purposes -- when in fact it only gets 15 mpg in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway. (It actually gets less when running on E85, since alcohol-based fuel contains less energy per gallon equivalent than straight gasoline.)

As a result of this smarmy loophole, GM, Ford, and other automakers have been given a strong incentive to build large numbers of E85-burning "flex-fuel" vehicles -- vehicles that might not make the CAFE cut otherwise and thus be less economical to produce. (Failing to meet CAFE standards results in fines and "gas guzzler" surcharges, etc.)

But the idea is to create market demand for the heavily-subsidized ethanol industry -- not produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. According to a New York Times piece by Thomas Friedman, the E85/CAFE loophole "increased U.S. oil consumption by 80,000 barrels per day in 2005 alone." GM has built some 2 million flex-fuel vehicles -- many of them large trucks and SUVs that would otherwise be subject to gas-guzzler fines, absent the clever accounting tricks.

The ethanol lobby has also been aggressively pushing its product on the supply end -- via a proposal that's been floated in Washington to require E85/ethanol pumps be installed at service stations -- in effect, forcing oil companies to subsidize the product of a direct competitor. (And of a product that is itself already heavily subsidized on multiple levels.) Stations would have to invest in new tanks/pumps and so on -- much if not all of it on their own nickel.

It would be the equivalent of mandating that McDonald's sell Wendy's burgers -- or that Ford dealers set aside a portion of their new car lot to sell GM vehicles. Pretty nutty. And at odds with basic principles of a free market. Why should gas stations (or anyone else) be compelled to sell a product they might not want to? In particular, one that is produced by a rival industry that already benefits from generous government protection?

This, however, seems to be the only way the ethanol lobby can do business in the U.S. -- a consequence of the fact that E85 costs a relative fortune to make, uses oil in its production (everything from the petroleum-sourced fertilizers used to grow the corn to the plants, trucks and other infrastructure involved), and contains less energy per gallon equivalent than still-cheaper regular unleaded. These factors have rendered it a tough sell on the free market. But the free market is not what the ethanol lobby is interested in.

E85 may have a role to play in reducing our country's dependence upon foreign oil. But it shouldn't be over-sold, let alone forced down our throats -- or given special loopholes that encourage circular results such as the production of large numbers of especially fuel-inefficient vehicles like "flex fuel" SUVs and pick-ups.

Such Enronesque fuzzy math CAFE accounting isn't fooling anyone.

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: Cars We Love to Hate (MBI).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Portland blazes new trails for the Peak Oil world

The Republic - East Vancouver
Dan Crawford

There is one city that has consistently grabbed headlines in relation to Peak Oil awareness. Using Google's latest “Trends” service instantly reveals the answer—Portland, Oregon. This city has become the world's peak oil capital, at least in terms of online searches. For the sake of comparison, Vancouver, BC rolls in at number eight.

I decided to go and visit Portland to experience the city first-hand and try to understand the whys and hows behind it's number one ranking. I arrived on the evening of June 14th landing at the city's airport, and within minutes, I stumbled across my first clue. Just steps away from the baggage carousel was a conveniently located information rack. Scanning it, my eyes quickly fell on a map that is non-existent for most cities: a bike map.

This handy brochure was prominently titled “Portland by Bicycle” and it was not only informative, but free as well. I pocketed a copy and continued walking, and steps from the rack was clue number two, a light-rail ticket kiosk. I was able to purchase a train ticket to downtown for only US$1.90.

Within minutes I was on the train headed for the city center of Portland. While on the train ride I witnessed clue number three, bike hangers. The trains are designed to easily accommodate bicycles by providing hangers so that a bike can be transported in a vertical position by its front tire. This reduces the area required for bikes and at the same time addresses any safety concerns. What was most impressive about these hangers was the fact that people were making use of them, for their intended purpose.

A short twenty minutes later I hopped off downtown where I was easily able to catch a bus, using the same ticket, that proceeded to drop me off steps from the Hawthorne Hostel, a cozy well thought-out travelers spot that would be home for the duration of my visit.

Walking into the hostel, I spotted clue number four: green roofs. Right at the entrance of the building was an educational placard documenting how the hostel's green roof came to be, and the benefits of incorporating such roofs. After checking in and dropping off my bags I quickly headed out, on foot, to attend my first-ever Peak Oil group meeting. Within blocks clue number five jumped out from a parked car—a simple, hand-made sign reading “IMPEACH” haphazardly displayed in the rear window.

Just steps later, I nearly walked into clue number six: a Portland Tribune newspaper box. The two headings on the front page of the latest edition read: “King Cob”—a story about natural building, and “Sustainable Life”—a recently-added section addressing the issue of sustainability. I grabbed a copy to read later.

As I continued on my stroll it became increasingly apparent how popular the bicycle culture is in this city, as numerous cyclists whizzed past, along with passing buses sporting loaded bike racks. This was when clue number seven stopped me dead in my tracks. I didn't know exactly what it was at first but I knew that the building and property I was walking past offered something different from the other places—it was inviting, offering a special place to stop, take in and just be. I made note of its location and continued on, not fully realizing the importance of what I had just experienced.

The church generously donates this large room to the group every Wednesday night. On this night a modest group of 20 people attended, an assortment of young and old, newbies and regulars. We started with informal introductions and then collectively decided on which topics to use for the break-out discussions. The group decided on a speaker bureau's discussion regarding out-reach, and a co-housing discussion to try and determine a specific project to work on.

I joined the speaker's bureau. We sat around a table and each person was given equal opportunity to bring forward ideas. We covered many different aspects of outreach, from holding screenings and hosting speakers to using google adwords and piggy-backing on people's interest generated by high gasoline prices. In a sense it was therapeutic to be in a space where intelligent and interesting perspectives could be brought forward and discussed, instead of being ridiculed. At the end of the meeting I left feeling both welcomed and motivated.

I also heard about the various non-associated groups in the city and the projects they work on. The group informed me about the cyclist event currently on in town, “Pedal Pulooza,” and the work of a group called “City Repair” that does natural building projects around town to create inviting spaces for the community. After the meeting, one of the members, Jonathan, lead me to the latest City Repair creation—to my pleasant surprise, it was the spot where, just hours before, I had been stopped in my tracks. This time I was able to take in the giant-mural, numerous tile-mosaics, the rock-work, and the beautifully dragon-sculptured cob bench.

The next morning, I had a chance to read through the free paper “Portland Tribune.” The cover story turned out to be about the guy behind “City Repair” and their latest project, which by this point I knew about quite intimately.

I then rented a bicycle from the hostel (for $10/day) and toured the city. I was thoroughly impressed by the quantity and quality of bike lanes and paths. I spent the entire day crossing Portland's many bridges and meandering along the riverside paths. In the early evening I decided to do some walking, and within minutes spotted clue number five again—this time it was a guy standing at the end of the Hawthorne bridge holding up signs sporting anti-Bush slogans for all of the passing cars to take in. I told him “Good job” as I walked past; at that moment, as if in agreement, a car honked enthusiastically.

Later on during my stroll clue number eight came into view—taking up an entire city block was a bookstore. It wasn't a Chapters or a Borders. It was Powells, North America's largest independent bookstore. Within its maze of stairs and aisles are thousands upon thousands of stacked books from new and used to obscure and out-of-print. Anything you could ever possibly want to read. The sections on alternative living offer the widest assortment I have ever seen.

Walking around some more I ran into clue nine—Portland General Electric. A guy who had a small table set up on the sidewalk was handing out papers regarding how to support renewable energy projects in Portland by signing up to pay for electricity from renewable sources. Oregon is first in the US when it comes to renewable energy sales to customers, having more than 43,000 signed up.

When it was time for me to leave Portland, I felt like I had only scratched the surface of a trail-blazing city that has so much to offer, not just to its residents, but to society in general. Now I can truly understand why this city is number one for Peak Oil awareness.

Al Gore is a Pigouvian

HybridCars Blog
Walter McManus
June 26, 2006

No, I'm not calling Gore an unclean animal. A Pigouvian is a policy wonk who supports moving to revenue-neutral carbon taxes.

Thanks to Greg Mankiw for the link to the Charlie Rose Show. Fast-forward to 42:45 in the video, when Gore announces that he is a Pigouvian (well, when he endorses carbon taxes).

Cambridge (England) economist Arthur Cecil Pigou (1877-1959) is famous for first recognizing the difference between private and social marginal benefits and costs of activities. The private cost of gasoline, for example, is essentially equal to the price per gallon, while the social cost includes the value of externalities in the form of emissions, crashes, and congestion. Pigou developed the theory that taxes and subsidies can correct the balance and make consumers "internalize the externalities."

Now you will know what it means when our gas receipts include a line labeled "Pigouvian Tax."

New Alternatives with Much Potential

Michael Millikin of Green Car Congress
June 26, 2006

Last week saw the introduction of two new alternatives to powertrains and to fuels, one announced by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Eaton, the other by BP and DuPont. Each has great promise, and both highlight that there is much potential for the future evolution of alternative solutions in each field.

The US EPA, Eaton and their development partners introduced the world's first diesel-hydraulic series-hybrid delivery truck. The hydraulic hybrid offers an improvement in fuel economy of up to 60-70% and a reduction in CO2 emissions of 40% or more compared to a conventional diesel-powered truck.

A diesel-electric series hybrid uses a combustion engine as a generator (engine/generator or genset) to produce electricity that powers the electric drive motor and to recharge the battery.

Rather than using a engine/generator, electric motor and a battery, the hydraulic series-hybrid uses an engine/pump to pressurize and to transfer hydraulic fluid to a rear drive pump/motor and/or high pressure accumulator.

The rear drive pump-motor converts the pressure from the hydraulic fluid into rotating power for the wheels, and recovers braking energy which is stored in the high pressure accumulator.

In other words, it is the pressurized hydraulic fluid that powers the pump/motor that drives the vehicle, replacing a conventional drivetrain and eliminating the need for a conventional transmission.

EPA and UPS plan to evaluate the demonstration vehicle in on-the-road service during 2006. EPA and Eaton are also developing a second UPS demonstration vehicle in a second phase of this partnership. EPA also plans to install an EPA-developed Clean Diesel Combustion (CDC) engine in the phase 2 vehicle. The CDC engine does not need NOx aftertreatment to achieve 2010 NOx standard.

BP and DuPont created a partnership to develop, produce and market next-generation biofuels, the first of which will be biobutanol. The partners will first introduce biobutanol as a gasoline bio-component in the UK in 2007.

Butanol is an alcohol that originally was produced by fermentation starting nearly 90 years ago. Butanol shifted to becoming a petrochemically-derived product in the 1950s as the price of petrochemicals dropped below that of starch and sugar substrates such as corn and molasses. Virtually all of the butanol is use today is produced petrochemically.

BP and DuPont have developed a process that more effectively produces butanol biologically--i.e., biobutanol.

Butanol's energy content is closer to gasoline than is the energy content of ethanol. Butanol is non-corrosive, can be distributed through existing pipelines, and can be--but does not have to be--blended with fossil fuels.

Butanol could be reformed for hydrogen for use in fuel cells, and the production process itself produces hydrogen.

Biobutanol's low vapor pressure and its tolerance to water contamination in gasoline blends facilitate its use in existing gasoline supply and distribution channels.

It has the potential to be blended into gasoline at higher concentrations than existing biofuels without the need to retrofit vehicles and it offers better fuel economy than gasoline-ethanol blends, improving a car’s fuel efficiency.

In other words, biobutanol offers greater benefit as an alternative fuel used in gasoline engines than does ethanol. Similarly, the hydraulic hybrid, with its 60-70% improvement in fuel economy offers a big jump in efficiency for an urban delivery vehicle.

Sustainable transportation will feature a number of different solutions that become mainstream. These two developments--the hydraulic hybrids and biobutanol--are likely to be part of that set.

Who Decides If Emissions Unsafe?

June 26, 2006

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat global warming, setting up what could be one of the court's most important decisions on the environment.

The decision means the court will address whether the administration's decision to rely on voluntary measures to combat climate change are legal under federal clean air laws.

"This is the whole ball of wax. This will determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency is to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and whether EPA can regulate carbon dioxide from power plants," said David Bookbinder, an attorney for the Sierra Club.

Bookbinder said if the court upholds the administration's argument it also could jeopardize plans by California and 10 other states, including most of the Northeast, to require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles.

The EPA said in a statement that the agency "is confident in its decision (not to regulate carbon dioxide) and will address the issue before the court." It said voluntary programs "are helping achieve reductions" in carbon emissions "while saving millions of dollars."

"Fundamentally, we don't think carbon dioxide is a pollutant, and so we don't think these attempts (to require reductions) are a good idea," said John Felmy, chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing oil and gas producers.

A dozen states, a number of cities and various environmental groups asked the court to take up the case after a divided lower court ruled against them.

They argue that the Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to limit carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles under the federal Clean Air Act because as the primary "greenhouse" gas causing a warming of the earth, carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

The administration maintains that carbon dioxide — unlike other chemicals that must be controlled to assure healthy air — is not a pollutant under the federal clean air law, and that even if it were the EPA has discretion over whether to regulate it.

A federal appeals court sided with the administration in a sharply divided ruling.

One judge said the EPA's refusal to regulate carbon dioxide was contrary to the clean air law; another said that even if the Clean Air Act gave the EPA authority over the heat-trapping chemical, the agency could choose not to use that authority; a third judge ruled against the suit because, he said, the plaintiffs had no standing because they hadn't proven harm.

Carbon dioxide, which is released when burning fossil fuels such as coal or gasoline, is the leading so-called "greenhouse" gas because as it drifts into the atmosphere it traps the earth's heat — much like a greenhouse. Many scientists cite growing evidence that this pollution is warming the earth to a point of beginning to change global climate.

At the heart of the climate debate is whether carbon dioxide releases should be controlled by emission caps on power plants and requiring motor vehicles to become more fuel efficient, therefore burning less fuel and producing less carbon dioxide.

President Bush, when first running for president, expressed support for regulating carbon dioxide, but he reversed himself shortly after getting into office — saying he was convinced that voluntary plans to curtail carbon were a better way to go and mandatory regulation would be too expensive for business.

In 2003, the EPA's top lawyer concluded that the agency lacked the authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, reversing a legal opinion issued several years earlier by the Clinton administration and prompting the lawsuit.

"If ever there was a case that warranted Supreme Court review this is it," says Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, whose state is one of 12 involved in the lawsuit.

In their appeal, the states argued that the case "goes to the heart of the EPA's statutory responsibilities to deal with the most pressing environmental problem of our time" — the threat of global warming.

The administration countered that the EPA should not be required to "embark on the extraordinarily complex and scientifically uncertain task of addressing the global issue of greenhouse gas emissions" when other, voluntary ways to address climate change are available.

In addition to Massachusetts, the states are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. They were joined by a number of cities including Baltimore, New York City and Washington D.C., as well as America Samoa, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

Maine officials heartened as battle about greenhouse gases continues

By BART JANSEN, Washington D.C. Correspondent
June 27, 2006

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court's decision to review a case that could force the federal government to limit carbon dioxide emissions got an enthusiastic reception in Maine, which has been a leader in the effort to limit so-called greenhouse gases. "This promises to be the most important Clean Air Act case the Supreme Court has ever heard," said Jerry Reid, an assistant attorney general for Maine. "It's very clear that emissions of carbon dioxide are posing a threat to public safety and welfare, and that's exactly what the Clean Air Act is designed (to address)."

Maine is among a dozen states that, along with advocacy groups, challenged a 2003 refusal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide. Lower courts have sided with the EPA.

Carbon dioxide is released during the burning of fossil fuels such as coal or gasoline. It is called a greenhouse gas because it traps heat in the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as global warming.

At the heart of the debate is whether carbon dioxide emissions should be controlled by limits on power plants and by requiring motor vehicles to become more efficient, thereby burning less fuel.

Maine's entire congressional delegation has long supported regulating carbon dioxide and welcomed the decision Tuesday in written statements or through statements from aides.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the case is a sad commentary on the inability of both the Bush administration and Congress to directly address the issue of global climate change.

"(The) lack of a comprehensive strategy has forced the United States to relinquish any influence it could have had in international negotiations that move ahead without us," Snowe said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has introduced legislation to fight climate change by regulating carbon dioxide as well as other pollutants.

"In order to address this serious problem, it is important that we take steps now to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, automobiles and other sources," she said.

Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine and a member of the House Energy Committee, believes the Clean Air Act clearly requires the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, said spokesman Mark Sullivan.

"The Bush administration has not complied with the law and (Allen) expects the Supreme Court to overrule the appeals court and uphold the Clean Air Act," Sullivan said.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said the case is an important step in dealing with greenhouse-gas emissions. "I am pleased that the state of Maine, along with others, has chosen to act to address the problem," he said.

Interest in reducing air pollution historically runs high in Maine. In fact, former Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine, wrote the 1970 Clean Air Act.

Maine is among a small group of states that is taking steps to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from cars and power plants.

Cities and towns also have gotten involved. Portland adopted an anti-idling policy for city vehicles, among other measures, and Freeport schools placed "Turn Off Your Engine" signs in school parking lots and drop-off areas.

Washington D.C. Correspondent Bart Jansen can be contacted at (202) 488-1119 or at:

Monday, June 26, 2006

True and Tried Ideas for Sustainability

I have been thinking about trying to partner with someone to produce an online repository of data for solutions to sustainability. This would have been a place where municipalities, businesses, or any other organization could write about their projects, what worked, what didn't, etc.

Well it looks like someone has beaten me to the punch. Check out:


According to their web page, "GUSSE is an online place where the world will collectively discuss, review and apply the best ideas for sustainable cities."


Large-Scale, Cheap Solar Electricity

Technology Review
Kevin Bullis
June 23, 2006

This week, Nanosolar, a startup in Palo Alto, CA, announced plans to build a production facility with the capacity to make enough solar cells annually to generate 430 megawatts. This output would represent a substantial portion of the worldwide production of solar energy.

According to Nanosolar's CEO Martin Roscheisen, the company will be able to produce solar cells much less expensively than is done with existing photovoltaics because its new method allows for the mass-production of the devices. In fact, maintains Roscheisen, the company's technology will eventually make solar power cost-competitive with electricity on the power grid.

Nanosolar also announced this week more than $100 million in funding from various sources, including venture firms and government grants. The company was founded in 2001 and first received seed money in 2003 from Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Experts say Nanosolar’s ambitious plans for such a large factory are surprising. "It's an extraordinary number,” says Ken Zweibel, who heads up thin-film research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. Most groups building new solar technologies “add maybe 25 or 50 megawatts," he says. "The biggest numbers are closer to 100. So it's a huge number, and it's a huge number in a new technology, so it's doubly unusual. All the [photovoltaics] in the world is 1,700 megawatts."

Today, the lion's share of solar cells are based on crystalline silicon, which is about three to five times too costly to compete with grid electricity, Zweibel says.

Nanosolar's technology involves a thin film of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium (CIGS) that absorbs sunlight and converts it into electricity. The basic technology has been around for decades, but it has proven difficult to produce it reliably and cheaply. Nanosolar has developed a way to make these cells using a printing technology similar to the kind used to print newspapers, rather than expensive vacuum-based methods.

Although the company expects to start selling solar cells next year, ramping up to full production will take more time. Meanwhile, high demand for solar cells worldwide will keep prices high, Roscheisen says. Eventually, however, he says the company hopes to attract more customers with lower prices, in several years reaching prices that make solar-power electricity competitive with the grid.

Zweibel says the company is likely to face challenges in ramping up production, although their pilot manufacturing facility is a big step. And he adds that Nanosolar is not alone in developing inexpensive manufacturing processes for CIGS solar cells, and at least one other company is working with a printing process.

Meanwhile, Andrew Gabor, senior engineer at Evergreen Solar, a silicon solar-cell developer and manufacturer in Marlboro, MA, says current supply problems related to conventional solar cells are easing as more production capacity is coming on line. This could mean that prices for silicon cells start dropping again, eventually becoming competitive with grid electricity. He suggests that in the future solar electricity supply will likely be met by a mix of technologies.

Researchers: Maine's tides could make cheap electricity

June 25, 2006

As a wave of wind-power proposals sweeps across New England, researchers from the electric utility industry have concluded that it makes economic sense to look under water for affordable electricity.

The Electric Power Research Institute contends underwater turbines powered by the tidal movement at three sites, including one in Maine, can produce electricity at a cost that competes with wind power and plants powered by natural gas.

Its study concluded that tidal power could produce electricity for 4.2 to 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour at those three locations. The standard offer for Central Maine Power Co. customers is 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour.

"I was shocked when my team came up with those cost-of-electricity numbers. I thought, 'It can't be,' " said Roger Bedard, the project leader in Palo Alto, Calif.

Bedard's team provided a detailed analysis of the technological and economic feasibility of tidal resources at one site apiece in Maine, Massachusetts, California, Washington and Alaska, and in two Canadian provinces, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

In Maine, the study focused on the Western Passage in Passamaquoddy Bay, where twice a day the tide rises and falls 20 feet, the greatest tide change in the continental United States. The other two sites with the greatest potential were at San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and in the Bay of Fundy at Minas Pass, Nova Scotia, Bedard said.

Tidal power appeals in several ways.

Unlike the wind, tides are predictable. Also, water's greater density means fewer turbines are needed to produce the same amount of electricity as wind turbines. And since they're under water, tidal projects don't come with aesthetic issues like those associated with wind farms.

The study focused on locations such as rivers and other narrow passages where the tidal flow is concentrated, creating the greatest potential for affordable electricity.

The tidal-powered turbines are much like wind turbines, but their blades turn more slowly. There are several types, some of which look like two- or three-bladed wind turbines. Others look like a cylinder surrounding multiple blades. All are attached to the ocean floor. An underground cable would connect to a substation on shore.

The EPRI study focused on large, commercial turbines that make one revolution every six seconds. That should be slow enough for fish to escape harm, and the theory will be tested later this year in New York's East River and in the United Kingdom, Bedard said.

For all its promise, the obvious problem for developers is the regulatory process, given that no one has ever obtained a permit for a commercial-scale project and the current regulatory scheme was designed for conventional hydroelectric projects, Bedard said.

But that isn't stopping companies from rushing to file proposals with state and federal regulators to get their foot in the door.

Maine has five preliminary proposals from the Piscataqua River that divides Maine and New Hampshire to the Western Passage that divides Maine and Canada's New Brunswick. In between, there are proposals for the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers. A fifth proposal calls for a different kind of tidal project using a dam in coastal waters off Cutler.

So far, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has received 21 preliminary permit applications for tidal power projects, said spokeswoman Celeste Miller. Ten have been granted and the others are pending, Miller said.

Maine is promoting the idea of a small-scale demonstration project, said Beth Nagusky, top energy adviser to Gov. John Baldacci.

"What people want to see is a demonstration project, to see if it works, not only environmentally but economically," said Dana Murch, dams and hydroelectric director for the Department of Environmental Protection.

The technology is in its infancy, similar to wind power 20 or 25 years ago, he said. And the permitting process will have to evolve, as well.

In Maine, environmental officials say the closest thing to a permit for an underwater turbine project would be a hydroelectric permit. It has been 20 years since a new permit was issued to build a dam in Maine, Murch said.

The EPRI study focused only on sites with commercial potential. But there are many more that could be conducive to smaller-scale projects in Maine, said Mike Mayhew, Maine's energy-efficiency engineer.

That talk raises questions for Pat White, top executive with the Maine Lobstermen's Association, who fishes from York Harbor.

He said he wants to see the test results on how the underwater turbines affect marine life, including Maine's lucrative lobster fishery.

"I want to know what it's going to do to the baby fish and lobsters," he said.

Lightening our load: A personal energy policy can help you save money, limit pollution andreduce nation's relianceon imported fuels

Union Tribune
Peter Rowe
June 25, 2006

BEIJING – The United States, South Korea and China all have energypolicies. Why don't you?

Last month, during a whirlwind trip sponsored by Honolulu's East-West Center, I and 11 other reportersexplored the challenges facing three of the world's great energy consumers. In Houston, Seoul and Beijing, experts issued glum predictions:

Ruthless competition for oil and natural gas, the fuels that provide nearly two-thirds of the world'senergy needs.

Higher – yes, even higher – prices at the gas pump.

Revived interest in nuclear power; coal, “clean” or otherwise; and renewable resources, such as solar, wind and geothermal.

Clearly, nations need energy policies. Yet nations don't pay $100 to fill up the SUV. People do.

So why not adopt a personal energy policy, one tailored to meet your specific goals? Patriots may wishto reduce America's reliance onimported oil. Environmentalists may strive to spew out less pollution.Everyone is eager to save money.

In fact, Americans have pioneered a host of gas-saving tactics in the last 20 years. Without these moves, scientists at Lawrence BerkeleyNational Laboratory estimate, our national energy consumption would be about 50 percent higher.

Beyond those successes, though, there's room for improvement in your home, car and workplace. Experts advanced solutions in three broad categories: simple steps that are a snap to accomplish; complex strategies that are worth thinking about; and iffy breakthroughs that, today at least, seem like a stretch.


It's a success: Green leaves and appliances.

Americans are great planters of trees, whose shady branches can lower temperatures – and the cost of air conditioning – in adjacent homes and office buildings. Moreover, the leaves can absorb up to 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a love the world should share. “Can this be replicated in India and other countries? Sure,” noted Jayant Sathaye, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The United States is also a leader in setting national standards for power-stingy household appliances, awarding qualifying products with the “EnergyStar” label – a move that South Korea has imitated.

It's a snap: The Easy Saver.

Actually, this would be a snap, if the gizmo was available in The States. It's not, yet, although it's needed here. Around the world, in fact, TVs, computers and other household devices suck up electricity even when they are turned off.

“These are 'power vampires,'” said Eun-Koo Lee of the Korea Energy Management Corporation.

Easy Saver, then, acts like a garlic clove, a mirror and a crucifix. Slip this little gizmo between the wall socket and your appliances. When you turn off your TV or computer, the energy no longer flows.

While this cuts household electricity consumption by about 11 percent, Lee argues the product could be easier to use. “It's very inconvenient to have to plug it into the wall,” he said. “The goal is to have it built into the devices.”

It's a thought: Food miles.

Matthew R. Simmons is a Houston-based banker to the oil industry and an adviser to President Bush. So it's a shock to hear his Al Gore-like message of looming oil shortages and the need for creative conservation techniques.

One of the most creative: chart your “food miles” and buy local produce, meats and dairy products.

This is a global issue. This summer, Simmons notes, 80 percent of the apples in British markets will come from New Zealand.

“That's 22,000 miles of travel,” he said.

But Americans, in particular, are accustomed to supermarkets stocked with Chilean nectarines, South African grapes, Mexican tomatoes, Australian wines. What one scholar calls “the journey from field to fork” consumes growing amounts of fuel – a 50 percent increase between 1977 and 1999.

Outside of a few bureaucrats and academics, though, few people seemed concerned. Until last year, that is, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast and demonstrated how quickly a region can be left to its own resources.

“I used to get a call a week,” said Rich Pirog, who studies food miles for Iowa State University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. “I get about two a day now.”

Pirog and Andrew Benjamin, an Iowa State student, discuss food miles in a paper that is posted online:

It's a stretch: Remodel.

Some Americans already enlist the sun to light their homes, heat their water and warm their pools. In San Diego County, more than 30 of these residences will welcome visitors on Sept. 30, for a free “Solar Homes Tour.”

For details on the tour, call the San Diego Regional Energy Office, (858) 244-1177, or visit the Web site,, then click on “Solar Energy Week.”

Even with tax credits, though, this can be an expensive move. But in the future, solar power may be just the beginning.

In Daejeon, a Korean city an hour's train ride south of Seoul, “Zero Energy Town” is a “village” of two experimental structures, a combination office-apartment building and a house. Both have solar panels on their roofs. Both pull in energy from an industrial-strength windmill. But only the house boasts a vertical tunnel, dropping deep into the Earth.

In the winter, this shaft ensures a steady stream of warm air. Year-round, one imagines, it also supplies nonstop nightmares to pet owners and parents of toddlers.


It's a success: Increased mileage.

In the U.S., passenger cars averaged 13 miles per gallon in 1973, the year of the first great oil crisis. By 1991, that average had climbed to 21 – despite the introduction of smog-reducing catalytic converters and reformulated gasolines.

It's a snap: Spring – as well as summer, fall and winter – cleaning.

You're already keeping your car tuned and your tires properly inflated, both important ways to squeeze more miles out of each gallon of gas. Next, replace your dirty air filter for a 10 percent mileage boost. Then dump the junk in your trunk – for every 50 pounds you shed, expect a 1 percent mileage dividend.

It's a thought: Drive strategically.

Simmons frets about “the one biggest waste of oil – traffic congestion.” The Texas banker advocates flex time and telecommuting, so armies of workers do not clog the roads in the morning and evening rush hours.

“We need to restructure the way we move goods and people,” he said.

Moreover, combine your errands and trips to limit your time behind the wheel. Focus, people!

It's a stretch: New cars, new fuels.

California has adopted an ambitious “Hydrogen Highway” policy, but will your local car dealership ever sell vehicles powered by squeaky-clean hydrogen fuel cells? In West Sacramento, a consortium of American and Japanese automakers insists the answer is yes; GM is expected to roll out the world's first commercial model in 2010.

Critics, though, note that the obstacles remain steep. For starters, we lack fuel stations – there are only 22 in California, including one in Chula Vista.

“It's a myth,” said David Fridley, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “It's a very expensive myth.”

Lane Sloan, a former Shell Oil executive who leads the University of Houston's Global Energy Management Institute, notes that the average range of experimental models is a scant 100 to 200 miles per tank. “It's hard to get enough volume in the tank.”

At the Korea Institute of Energy Research, the outlook for fuel cells is rosier – long-term. Very long-term. “After 2060, fuel cells will get a lot of attention,” said Ik-Soo Choi, the institute's president.

In the intervening 55 years? “We think hybrids will be more promising.”

But hybrid technology isn't the only route to significant fuel savings. The conventional combustion engine in Toyota's new Yaris claims 40 miles per gallon on the highway. And in Fiji, mechanics are trying to get cars to run on coconut oil.


It's a success: Seize the day.

Some office managers are scheduling the cleaning crew for daylight hours, then turning off the building's lights at night. Color their inspiration green, as in cash. At the Sacramento headquarters of the California Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, this simple step trimmed 8 percent from its electric bill.

It's a snap: Stretch your legs.

If you work in a multistory building, adopt the 2-1 rule. Skip the elevator and walk if you are descending no more than two floors or climbing no more than one floor.

It's a thought: Re-consider how much light you need.

In the Cal EPA building, every other overhead light fixture is dark. China is limiting urban “beautification projects” that involve electrical displays. “This consumes a lot of power,” said Qin Gang, a deputy director in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Love the light? Urge your company to install a power regulator/voltage stabilizer, which eliminates power spikes and fluctuations building-wide, thus cutting power costs. Best of all, it's automatic. “You're not relying on human behavior, which is variable,” said Cal EPA's Theresa Parsley.

It's a stretch: Drink “green” beer.

Several American breweries are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable power sources. New Belgium, the Colorado brewer of Fat Tire Ale, has used wind power since 1999; Sierra Nevada, the Chico brewery, adopted fuel cells in 2004.

Your company doesn't run on clean energy? You still can support this cause with a few six packs – although it's wise to offer this “help” after work.

For Good or Ill, Boom in Ethanol Reshapes Economy of Heartland

NY Times

Dozens of factories that turn corn into the gasoline substitute ethanol are sprouting up across the nation, from Tennessee to Kansas, and California, often in places hundreds of miles away from where corn is grown.

Once considered the green dream of the environmentally sensitive, ethanol has become the province of agricultural giants that have long pressed for its use as fuel, as well as newcomers seeking to cash in on a bonanza.

The modern-day gold rush is driven by a number of factors: generous government subsidies, surging demand for ethanol as a gasoline supplement, a potent blend of farm-state politics and the prospect of generating more than a 100 percent profit in less than two years.

The rush is taking place despite concerns that large-scale diversion of agricultural resources to fuel could result in price increases for food for people and livestock, as well as the transformation of vast preserved areas into farmland.

Even in the small town of Hereford, in the middle of the Texas Panhandle's cattle country and hundreds of miles from the agricultural heartland, two companies are rushing to build plants to turn corn into fuel.

As a result, Hereford has become a flashpoint in the ethanol boom that is helping to reshape part of rural America's economic base.

Despite continuing doubts about whether the fuel provides a genuine energy saving, at least 39 new ethanol plants are expected to be completed over the next 9 to 12 months, projects that will push the United States past Brazil as the world's largest ethanol producer.

The new plants will add 1.4 billion gallons a year, a 30 percent increase over current production of 4.6 billion gallons, according to Dan Basse, president of AgResources, an economic forecasting firm in Chicago. By 2008, analysts predict, ethanol output could reach 8 billion gallons a year.

For all its allure, though, there are hidden risks to the boom. Even as struggling local communities herald the expansion of this ethanol-industrial complex and politicians promote its use as a way to decrease America's energy dependence on foreign oil, the ethanol phenomenon is creating some unexpected jitters in crucial corners of farm country.

A few agricultural economists and food industry executives are quietly worrying that ethanol, at its current pace of development, could strain food supplies, raise costs for the livestock industry and force the use of marginal farmland in the search for ever more acres to plant corn.

"This is a bit like a gold rush," warned Warren R. Staley, the chief executive of Cargill, the multinational agricultural company based in Minnesota. "There are unintended consequences of this euphoria to expand ethanol production at this pace that people are not considering."

Mr. Staley has his own reasons to worry, because Cargill has a stake in keeping the price of corn low enough to supply its vast interests in processed food and livestock.

But many energy experts are also questioning the benefits of ethanol to the nation's fuel supply. While it is a renewable, domestically produced fuel that reduces gasoline pollution, large amounts of oil or natural gas go into making ethanol from corn, leaving its net contribution to reducing the use of fossil fuels much in doubt.

As one of the hottest investments around, however, few in farm country want to hear any complaints these days about the risks associated with ethanol. Archer Daniels Midland, the politically connected agricultural processing company in Decatur, Ill., and the industry leader that has been a longstanding champion of transforming corn into a fuel blend, has enjoyed a doubling in its stock price and profits in the last year.

One ethanol producer has already sold shares to the public and two more are planning to do so. And the get-rich-quick atmosphere has drawn in a range of investors, including small farm cooperatives, hedge funds and even Bill Gates.

For all the interest in ethanol, however, it is doubtful whether it can serve as the energy savior President Bush has identified. He has called for biofuels which account for just 3 percent of total gasoline usage to replace roughly 1.6 million barrels a day of oil imported from the Persian Gulf.

New Jobs, New Life

To fill that gap with corn-based ethanol alone, agricultural experts say that production would have to rise to more than 50 billion gallons a year; at least half the nation's farmland would need to be used to grow corn for fuel. But that isn't stopping out-of-the-way towns looking for ways to pump life into local economies wracked by population loss, farm consolidation and low prices from treating the rush into ethanol as a godsend.

"These projects are bringing 100 new jobs to our town," said Don Cumpton, Hereford's director of economic development and a former football coach at the high school. "It's not as if Dell computer's going to be setting up shop here. We'd be nuts to turn something like this down."

That the United States is using corn, among the more expensive crops to grow and harvest, to help meet the country's fuel needs is a testament to the politics underlying ethanol's 30-year rise to prominence. Brazilian farmers produce ethanol from sugar at a cost roughly 30 percent less.

But in America's farm belt, politicians have backed the ethanol movement as a way to promote the use of corn, the nation's most plentiful and heavily subsidized crop. Those generous government subsidies have kept corn prices artificially low at about $2 a bushel and encouraged flat-out production by farmers, leading to large surpluses symbolized by golden corn piles towering next to grain silos in Iowa and Illinois.

While farmers are seeing little of the huge profits ethanol refiners like Archer Daniels Midland are banking, many farmers are investing in ethanol plants through cooperatives or simply benefiting from the rising demand for corn. With Iowa home to the nation's first presidential caucuses every four years, just about every candidate who visits the state pays obeisance to ethanol.

"There is zero daylight" between Democrats and Republicans in the region, said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research policy group in Washington, and a veteran observer of agricultural politics. "All incumbents and challengers in Midwestern farm country are by definition ethanolics."

The ethanol explosion began in the 1970's and 1980's, when ADM's chief executive, Dwayne O. Andreas, was a generous campaign contributor and well-known figure in the halls of Congress who helped push the idea of transforming corn into fuel.

Ethanol can be produced from a number of agricultural feed stocks, including corn and sugar cane, and someday, wheat and straw. But given the glut in corn, the early strategy of Mr. Andreas was to drum up interest in ethanol on the state level among corn farmers and persuade Washington to provide generous tax incentives. But in 1990, when Congress mandated the use of a supplement in gasoline to help limit emissions, ADM lost out to the oil industry, which won the right to use the cheaper methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, derived from natural gas, to fill the 10 percent fuel requirement.

Past Scandal

Adding to its woes, ADM was marred by scandal in 1996 when several company executives, including one of the sons of Mr. Andreas, were convicted of conspiracy to fix lysine markets. The company was fined $100 million. Since then, ADM's direct political clout in Washington may have waned a bit but it still pursues its policy preferences through a series of trade organizations, notably the Renewable Fuels Association.

Some 14 months ago the company hired Shannon Herzfeld, a leading lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry. But she is not a registered lobbyist for ADM and said in an interview that the company was maintaining its long-held policy that it does not lobby Congress directly.

"Nobody is deferential to ADM," contended Ms. Herzfeld, who says she spends little time on Capitol Hill.

But ADM has not lost interest in promoting ethanol among farm organizations, politicians and the news media. It is by far the biggest beneficiary of more than $2 billion in government subsidies the ethanol industry receives each year, via a 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit given to refiners and blenders that mix ethanol into their gasoline. ADM will earn an estimated $1.3 billion from ethanol alone in the 2007 fiscal year, up from $556 million this year, said David Driscoll, a food manufacturing analyst at Citigroup.

[And the company may be concerned by the recent statement by Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman, who suggested that if prices remain high, lawmakers should consider ending the ethanol subsidy when it expires in 2010. "The question needs to be thought about," he said on Friday.]

ADM has huge production facilities that dwarf those of its competitors. With seven big plants, the company controls 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol production, or about 24 percent of the country's capacity. ADM can make more than four times what VeraSun, ADM's closest ethanol rival, can produce.

Last year, spurred by soaring energy prices, the ethanol lobby broke through in its long campaign to win acceptance outside the corn belt, inserting a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that calls for the use of 5 billion gallons a year of ethanol by 2007, growing to at least 7.5 billion gallons in 2012. The industry is now expected to produce about 6 billion gallons next year.

The phased removal of MTBE from gasoline, a result of concerns that the chemical contaminates groundwater and can lead to potential health problems, hastened the changeover. Now, government officials are also pushing for increasing use of an 85-percent ethanol blend, called E85, which requires automakers to modify their engines and fuel injection systems.

In the ultimate nod to ADM's successful efforts, Mr. Bodman announced the new initiatives in February at the company's headquarters in Illinois.

"It's been 30 years since we got a call from the White House asking for the agriculture industry, ADM in particular, to take a serious look at the possibilities of building facilities to produce alternative sources of energy for our fuel supply in the United States," said G. Allen Andreas, ADM's chairman and Dwayne Andreas' nephew.

Now, ADM is betting even more of its future on ethanol, embracing a shift from food processing to energy production as its focus. In April, it hired Patricia A. Woertz, a former executive from the oil giant Chevron, as the company's new chief executive.

While ADM has pushed ethanol, rivals like Cargill have been more skeptical. To Mr. Staley, ethanol is overpromoted as a solution to the nation's energy challenges, and the growth in production, if unchecked, has the potential to ravage America's livestock industry and harm the nation's reliability as an exporter of corn and its byproducts.

Threat to Food Production

"Unless we have huge increases in productivity, we will have a huge problem with food production," Mr. Staley said. "And the world will have to make choices."

Last year corn production topped 11 billion bushels second only to 2004's record harvest. But many analysts doubt whether the scientists and farmers can keep up with the ethanol merchants.

"By the middle of 2007, there will be a food fight between the livestock industry and this biofuels or ethanol industry," Mr. Basse, the economic forecaster, said. "As the corn price reaches up above $3 a bushel, the livestock industry will be forced to raise prices or reduce their herds. At that point the U.S. consumer will start to see rising food prices or food inflation."

If that occurs, the battleground is likely to shift to some 35 million acres of land set aside under a 1985 program for conservation and to help prevent overproduction. Farmers are paid an annual subsidy averaging $48 an acre not to raise crops on the land. But the profit lure of ethanol could be great enough to push the acreage, much of it considered marginal, back into production.

Mr. Staley fears that could distract farmers from the traditional primary goal of agriculture, raising food for people and animals. "We have to look at the hierarchy of value for agricultural land use," he said in a May speech in Washington. "Food first, then feed" for livestock, "and last fuel."

And even Cargill is hedging its bets. It recently announced plans to nearly double its American ethanol capacity to 220 million gallons a year. Meanwhile, the flood of ethanol plant announcements is making the American livestock industry nervous about corn production. "I think we can keep up, assuming we get normal weather," said Greg Doud, the chief economist at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "But what happens when Mother Nature crosses us up and we get a bad corn year?"

Beyond improving corn yields, the greatest hope for ethanol lies with refining technology that can produce the fuel from more efficient renewable resources, like a form of fuel called cellulosic ethanol from straw, switchgrass or even agricultural waste. While still years away, cellulosic ethanol could help overcome the concerns inherent in relying almost exclusively on corn to make ethanol and make the advance toward E85 that much quicker.

"The cost of the alternative of staying addicted to oil and filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and keeping other countries beholden to high gasoline prices is unacceptable," said Nathanael Greene, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York. "We have to struggle through the challenges of growing and producing biofuels in the right way."

But the current incentives to make ethanol from corn are too attractive for producers and investors to worry about the future. With oil prices at $70 a barrel sharply lifting the prices paid for ethanol, the average processing plant is earning a net profit of more than $5 a bushel on the corn it is buying for about $2 a bushel, Mr. Basse said. And that is before the 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit given to refiners and blenders that incorporate ethanol into their gasoline.

"It is truly yellow gold," Mr. Basse said.