Grist: September 2007

By Staff

Environmental news and commentary.
Dream a Little Ream of Me
House passes ambitious energy bill, Bush threatens veto

The first national renewable-energy standard. Revoked oil-industry tax breaks that will help pay for clean energy. Funding for green job creation. A carbon-neutral federal government. What's all this, the deluded longings of some kooky environmentalist? Nope, it's a few of the features of the massive energy bill passed by the U.S. House early last month. "We are turning toward the future," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "This beautiful planet is God's gift to us. We have a moral responsibility to preserve it." The legislation – which notably requires utilities to generate 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020, but does not address vehicle fuel economy – still faces hurdles: it must be morphed with the Senate version passed in June, then weather the withering gaze of President Bush, who has threatened a veto. But hey, let's just be happy for now. The vote is "a big, big deal," said Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.). "There has been no legislation like this for a generation."
Los Angeles Times, Noam N. Levey and Richard Simon, 05 Aug 2007

We Could've Sworn Someone Was Already Working On That
Bush confirms plans for U.S.-hosted climate summit

Last month President Bush solidified plans for an international climate summit in September. The meeting, to be hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, will convene 12 to 15 industrial and developing countries, including India and China, to discuss long-term climate goals. But critics are jumping all over the idea, first floated in June; they say Bush's refusal to consider mandatory emissions cuts has tanked any hope of progress. "If this is just to carry on with a voluntary approach," said Elliot Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, "then it could be worse than useless." Others point out the curious timing of the meeting, which will occur just three days after a similar U.N.-sponsored climate conference of 100 nations in New York. U.N. Climate Change Secretariat head Yvo de Boer was gracious about the parallel effort: "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," he said, earning our eternal idiomatic affection. "It will be interesting to see what this delivers."

Reuters, Alister Doyle, 04 Aug 2007

Test Drive
New York to paste "global warming index" stickers on some new vehicles

New York has become the second state in the U.S. to require new cars and light trucks to bear a "global warming index" sticker. (We'll give you a minute to guess which one was first.) The law, which begins with the 2010 model year, aims to educate consumers and cut pollution. Each sticker will show how the vehicle's emissions compare to the average overall emissions of that model year, and will also reveal which model within the vehicle's class has the lowest emissions. Nasties to be indexed include carbon dioxide, methane, nitric oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. "Global warming is one of the most serious environmental problems of our generation," said New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D). "Every level of government, every business, and every consumer can play a role in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions." Oh, and: the first state was California. And New York is basing its law on theirs, so manufacturers don't have to devise different stickers. Isn't that thoughtful?
Staten Island Advance, Rob Hart, 04 Aug 2007

Lovely Nissan, Meter Made
Nissan to install fuel-efficiency gauge in all its models

Automaker Nissan announced plans to install a gauge in all its vehicles that estimates fuel-efficiency to let drivers know how their driving habits affect gas mileage. The gauge already appears in some of Nissan's newest luxury cars, but its plan to eventually showcase the efficiency meter in every model has drawn praise from greens. "It shouldn't be just wealthy people with luxury cars who have this information," says Tim Carmichael of the Coalition for Clean Air. "I hope the rest of the industry follows them." It's been estimated that the new information could influence drivers to be an average of 10% more fuel-efficient. Now if only they'd put an indicator in every vehicle to show drivers how much fuel they'd save by not driving.
USA Today, Chris Woodyard, 21 Aug 2007

Flo Nays
Federal judge halts Navy sonar exercises off California coast

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Navy to stop using mid-frequency active sonar in exercises off the Southern California coast through 2009. Noting that the Navy's own evaluation says the sonar exercises could disrupt marine mammal behavior in as many as 170,000 instances, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper found in favor of the Natural Resources Defense Council and four other groups. Cooper, who ruled against the Navy in a similar case last year on exercises off Hawaii, is not a hit with the boys (and girls) in blue, who will appeal. "This court decision prevents us from using active sonar," said Vice Admiral Samuel Locklear. "It potentially puts American lives and our national security at risk." But NRDC attorney Joel Reynolds says that line of defense is doltish: "Just as the Army has a responsibility not to train soldiers to shoot in the middle of a crowded city street, the Navy has a duty, when it's learning how to hunt with sonar, not to choose a practice range next to a marine sanctuary."
Los Angeles Times, Kenneth R. Weiss, 07 Aug

Word Gets Around
New bike, parking policies leave polluting vehicles in the dust

Now for some wheely good news (sorry, it had to be done): officials around the globe are moving forward on innovative eco-transportation schemes. Last week, the city council of Reykjavik, Iceland, enacted a rule that gives free parking to those who drive fuel-efficient vehicles. In Ontario, Canada, yesterday, officials said they will develop a rating system for eco-friendly cars and trucks, with an eye toward debuting a green license plate in 2008 for low-emitters; the tag could net owners perks like free parking and access to commuter lanes. In Paris (ah, Paris), the first three weeks of the free-bicycle Vélib program saw 10,000 bikes used a total of 1.2 million times – an average of six times per day. While some vandalism has been reported, and a few overeager commuters have illegally secured bikes with their own locks, officials are pleased with the experiment. And others are taking notice: London Mayor Ken Livingstone has asked his city's transportation agency to develop a similar scheme.
Toronto Star, Canadian Press, 09 Aug 2007

Evian Is Just Evil Misspelled
Hatin' on plastic water bottles is all the rage

Forget SUVs and Styrofoam: hip-to-the-times green folk are directing their ire at plastic water bottles. In the last few months, the energy-intensiveness of bottled water – 1.5 million barrels of oil go into making the bottles for the U.S. market each year, and oodles more to transporting the H2O – has seeped into the public consciousness. Big-city mayors have urged residents to stop hitting the bottle, and highfalutin restaurants are serving filtered tap water. Advocates point out that water flows freely in nearly every U.S. home, while 38 billion recyclable plastic vessels are trashed every year. Hoping to cash in on the latest consumer trend, Nestle will roll out its water brands in a bottle made of 30% less plastic, while Nalgene has teamed up with water-filtration giant Brita to launch a bottle-reduction campaign called FilterForGood. Then again, some Nalgenes and other hard plastic containers contain the icky chemical compound bisphenol A. Which is why we stick with martinis.
Los Angeles Times, Alana Semuels, 14 Aug 2007

It Only Hertz a Little
Rental and car-share companies get hip to hybrids

Fueled by consumers' green interests, rental, car-service, and car-sharing companies are increasingly turning to hybrids. (Hear the collective sigh of relief from guilt-prone enviros who cringe with every tap on the rental accelerator.) Big renters Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis have all recently added several thousand Toyota Priuses and other hybrids to their fleets, and smallish company EV Rental Cars, based mainly in California, is all-hybrid. Upscale car-service companies such as L.A.-based Evo Limo and New York-based OZOcar also give low-emission rides around town. Car-sharers like Flexcar – which has a 30% hybrid fleet – and Zipcar are also getting hip to the hoopla. The downside: unless you're tooling around in a big West Coast or Northeast city – particularly the usual suspects Seattle, San Francisco, L.A., Boston, New York, or D.C. – you're less likely to have the hybrid option. In addition, hybrids sometimes cost more to rent. Because saving the planet don't come cheap.
The New York Times, Barry Rehfeld, 12 Aug 2007

So That's What Those Trains Are For
Beijing enacts four-day ban on vehicles, pushes public transportation

August 17 marked the start of an experimental four-day vehicle ban in Beijing, China. While the motivation for the scheme is finding ways to clear the air for next year's Olympics, its execution is a lovely reminder that change is possible. Home to 16 million people, Beijing has about 3 million registered vehicles; today and Sunday, license plates ending in even numbers must stay parked, with odd-numbered plates banned on Saturday and Monday. The experiment saw 1.3 million fewer cars on the city's busy streets, and officials hope for some change in their notoriously smoggy skies. Commuters – who face a $13 fine if they violate the rule – can take advantage of taxis, extra buses, and expanded subway hours. "Of course I back the scheme," said one. "It's all to do with the Olympics … Although it will be a little inconvenient, it's not that hard to use public transport." Said a surprised bus rider, "It's very convenient, actually, it's no more trouble than aking the car." Hear that, world?

BBC News, Michael Bristow, 17 Aug 2007

That's One Way to Highlight Shrinkage
Some 600 nudes pose on receding Swiss glacier

Giving climate-change awareness an infusion of sex appeal and highlighting the issue of glacial melt, Greenpeace teamed up with photographer Spencer Tunick last month to bring together 600 volunteers for a nude photo shoot on Switzerland's Aletsch Glacier. "People posing on the glacier, it's like they show their vulnerability, free of any protection," said Marcus Allerman of Greenpeace. "It's actually what happens with our nature, it's free of any protection and it's kind of sick, the glacier is like bleeding out or sweating." The glacier, part of a United Nations World Heritage site, shrunk by about 377 feet between 2005 and 2006. Greenpeace stressed that most Swiss glaciers will disappear by 2080 if climate change continues at its current pace. Organizers were happy that so many volunteers braved the 50-degree temperatures and were especially relieved that Al Gore wasn't mentioned in connection with the event.
Swiss Info, 18 Aug 2007

Cool Runnings
Effluent would be used to cool power plants in an innovative Maryland project

Charles County, Md., is poised to be the first area in the U.S. to use treated sewage to cool down power-plant towers. A proverbial "win-win" scheme, the proposal would conserve groundwater, which is usually used for power-plant cooling, and would cut down on the amount of sewage being dumped into the Potomac River, which feeds into the beleaguered Chesapeake Bay. Power companies also like the concept because they can diffuse opposition to power plants if those plants will use less water. "This is a process that is going to be very quickly imitated around the country," predicted state Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D). "We need to spread that sh*t around." OK, he didn't say that last bit, but he should have.
The Washington Post, Philip Rucker, 19 Aug 2007

Teddy Would Be Proud
Conservation organization sues feds over energy development

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has sued the U.S. Department of the Interior over the authorization of thousands of new oil and gas wells, roads, and miles of pipeline in a wildlife-rich area of Wyoming. News that an organization has sued the federal government over environmental travesties is, well, not really news – unless it's TRCP, a non-litigious group with a largely Republican membership. The move is indicative that even the Bush administration's usual allies are fed up with a one-track-mind approach to energy development. Case in point: The Bureau of Land Management stated that development in the Wyoming area would "have adverse impact to suitable habitat for many wildlife species" and turn hunting grounds into "an industrial setting" – but recommended the DOI go ahead anyway.
Casper Star-Tribune, Dustin Bleizeffer, 21 Aug 2007

All Pact and Ready to Go
Six Western states, two Canadian provinces agree to regional climate pact

Last month, the leaders of six Western states and two Canadian provinces agreed to their own regional climate pact, aiming to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. The Western Climate Initiative aims to have a cap-and-trade system in place by August 2008 and wants to partner with other trading systems like the European Union's and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the U.S. Northeast. While the 15% target isn't quite ambitious enough for some, greens are hopeful that the growing movement to set even relatively weak state and regional climate standards will eventually influence the feds to adopt a national program. At least half of the U.S. states involved in yesterday's agreement – California, Oregon, and Washington – already have state climate standards that exceed the modest WCI goal. The other pact members are Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Canada's Manitoba and British Columbia.
Bloomberg News, Christopher Martin, 22 Aug 2007

My My, Is It 2007 Already?
Judge requires feds to submit climate research plan, impact assessment

The Bushies are big stinkin' lawbreakers, a federal judge ruled last month. A 1990 federal law requires the U.S. government to provide a scientific report every four years on climate change and its effects on the environment, the economy, and public health, but the Bush administration chose to ignore its 2004 deadline for such a report. Green groups sued, and U.S. District Judge Saundra Armstrong ruled in favor of timeliness, demanding the required impact assessment by May 31, 2008. The laggardly administration also owes a plan to guide federal climate research, which is due every three years and hasn't been submitted since 2003; Armstrong asked that it be submitted by March 1, 2008. To the Bushies' argument that they determined "only recently that the initiation of a process to revise the research plan has become necessary and advisable," Armstrong responded, "News flash: you're not above the law." In legalese, of course.
San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Egelko, 22 Aug 2007

Is Our Children Greening?
Students and colleges starting to go green

It's school time again, and you know what that means: pencils, books, teachers' dirty looks, and ambitious eco-minded students. Thanks to the influence of today's yoots – a generation accustomed to sorting their trash and hyper-aware of global warming – schools across the country are greening up education. California's Green Campus Program introduces coeds to energy-efficient mini-fridges, recycled ink cartridges, and veggie-based laundry detergent; the program set up a dorm room at University of California-Irvine with eco-products buyable within a 10-minute bike ride from campus. Residence halls are popping up equipped with green touches from low-flow showerheads to garden rooftops to motion detectors that turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. Says GCP's Shyla Raghav, who seems much more mature than we were in college: "We can't continue to have a hotel mentality where every light is left on because we're not paying the bills."
Los Angeles Times, Janet Eastman, 23 Aug 2007

This article was originally published on August 31, 2007.