How Canada Should Return Obama’s Oil Pipeline Punt

Late last week President Barack Obama deferred consideration of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, designed to ship Alberta petroleum to the Gulf Coast, until after next year’s U.S. elections. Obama’s move immediately sparked vows in Canada to redirect crude exports to Asian markets less angst-ridden by the environmental impacts associated with tapping Alberta’s tough, tarry petroleum. A smarter strategy would be to reduce those impacts, starting with the black mark that brought Keystone XL to national attention: oil sands crude’s bloated carbon footprint. Continue reading “How Canada Should Return Obama’s Oil Pipeline Punt”

Canadian ‘Stimulus’ Targets Carbon Capture & Nuclear

canadian-prime-minister-stephen-harper

Canada’s Conservative government unveiled a budget yesterday with an energy balance distinctly different from that contemplated by President Obama in his economic stimulus package. “Green Causes Left Out of Budget” is how the Toronto-based National Post headlined its coverage of the Canadian budget proposed yesterday. Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert writes that environmentalists may be the only “constituency, friendly or hostile to the Conservatives, that will not get a piece of the multibillion-dollar stimulus package.”

Whereas Obama’s $819-billion stimulus package proposes to give renewables a big boost, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s C$33-billion (US$27-billion) ‘Economic Action Plan’ would leave unchanged Canada’s EcoEnergy support program for renewable energy. Canadian Wind Energy Association president Robert Hornung predicts the program may run out of cash before the end of the coming fiscal year, blunting the industry’s ability to draw investment amidst a superhot U.S. market:

“Our ability to compete with the United States for investment in wind energy projects and manufacturing opportunities will decline as a result of this budget. At a time when the United States has made measures to support renewable energy deployment a key component of its plans to stimulate the US economy, Canada is moving in the opposite direction.”

Continue reading “Canadian ‘Stimulus’ Targets Carbon Capture & Nuclear”

Will Obama Get EPA Off the Road?

President Obama’s first move for clean tech could simply be getting the federal government out of the way in one area where the states are already poised to move aggressively: fuel economy. Candidate Obama promised to do as much on the campaign trail and yesterday Lisa Jackson, his nominee for EPA administrator, provided some hope that he will follow through in office.

Jackson, formerly New Jersey’s top environmental regulator, pledged in a Senate confirmation hearing yesterday that she would “immediately revisit” whether to allow states to set CO2 emissions limits on automobiles.

The CO2 tailpipe standards at issue were set by California in 2004 and subsequently adopted by 18 other states, which are more stringent than the tightened Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards approved by Congress in December 2007. Federal courts rejected auto industry challenges against the tougher state standards, but the Bush EPA rode to the rescue by denying California (and by extension its partner states) a federal waiver needed to implement the rules.

Jackson, if confirmed by the Senate, will thus have the power to immediately take an obstructionist EPA off the road. This could have a significant impact on technology development, given that minimal innovation is required to meet the tightened CAFE standards.

Jackson’s pledge to reconsider the state emissions waiver is an “early challenge for automakers” as Obama takes office next week, according to business journal Automotive News:

Automakers and their allies oppose state-by-state regulation of greenhouse gases. They say such rules are an indirect attempt to regulate fuel economy, which is a federal responsibility. They also say state rules would add costs and create market chaos, especially for dealers near borders with states that don’t have their own rules.

Natural Resources Defense Council vehicles policy director Roland Hwang suggested recently in a provocative report that automakers could solve such problems itself: “The obvious solution to all of the automaker concerns — including their desire for a uniform national standard — is to adopt California’s [greenhouse gas] standards nationwide.”

Hwang analyzed fuel economy projections in business plans that GM and Ford Motor submitted to Congress last month during their pursuit of a federal loan package. (His analysis excludes Chrysler, whose business plan was short on fuel economy details.) He concludes that GM and Ford could comply with the  California standards with little to no effort:

All three companies state that they will at least comply with future federal fuel economy (“CAFE”) standards. This analysis demonstrates that GM and Ford are now positioned also to comply with the more stringent California greenhouse gas standards if they were extended to apply nationwide. (my emphasis)

Postscript: Jackson’s home state of New Jersey just joined the list of states implementing California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) program, according to the Daily Record of Parsippany, NJ. The ZEV program was declared dead along with the battery-electric vehicle by the award-winning 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?. In fact, the program helped drive hybrid vehicles onto car lots across the country and will likely accelerate future adoption of plug-in hybrids and battery-electrics according to my ZEV report in IEEE Spectrum magazine.

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This post was created for the Technology Review guest blog: Insights, opinions and analysis of the latest in emerging technologies