Climate Change is a Looming Threat: Time to Fix Our Fragile Energy Infrastructure

NBC’s new science fiction drama Revolution is set in a world that 15 years after the start of a worldwide blackout. This post-apocalyptic future shows how the lack of a preparation for a blackout led to ultimate chaos and governments collapsing. As much as I enjoy post-apocalyptic science fiction thrillers, this hits close to home. Threats to our energy infrastructure are a real concern. Back in 2003, a software bug at a control room of the FirstEnergy Corporation in Ohio caused a widespread power outage throughout parts of the Northeast and Midwest. The blackout affected an estimated 55 million people in Canada and the US. Power, water, transportation, and communications were all impacted.

Troubling news. It can happen again. This time severe weather influenced by climate change is now increasing the risk of that occurring. In 2012, for example, storm surge and high winds from Hurricane Sandy downed power lines, flooded electrical substations, and damaged several power plants and ports, according to DOE, leaving over 8 million people without power.

A recent government report by the independent Government Accountability Office presented troubling findings on how climate change can threaten the America’s core energy infrastructure. The study shows that “U.S. energy infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to a range of climate change impacts—particularly infrastructure in areas prone to severe weather and water shortages.” They examined how it could affect our infrastructure in four main ways: (1) resource extraction and processing infrastructure, (2) fuel transportation and storage infrastructure, (3) electricity generation infrastructure, and (4) electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure.

GAO blog chart 3.23.14

Luckily, the GAO reports that measures exist to help reduce these climate-related risks. Hardening and resiliency measures would adapt the US’s energy systems to weather and climate-related impacts. Hardening measures involve physical changes that improve that stability of infrastructure, whereas resiliency measures allow energy systems to continue operating after damage and allow for a quick recovery. Whether it be sealing water-sensitive equipment or installing back-up generators, there are things that can be done.

Key federal entities can play important supporting roles that can influence private companies’ infrastructure decisions. The government can influence companies’ decision through providing information, regulatory oversight, technology research and development, and market incentives and disincentives.

A wide range of studies have shown that U.S. energy infrastructure is at risk for damage and disruptions to service due to severe weather events. The damage from this could impose large costs on the energy industry, as well as influence the local and national economies.

One thing is for sure. More can be done, and needs to be done.

What America Can Learn from New Mexico

Today U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) stood on the floor of the Senate and delivered his first speech as the newly elected Senator from New Mexico. The first floor speech for any member of Congress is a monumental occasion and sets the course for his or her term of office. While Senator Heinrich had a plethora of topics to choose from, he chose to focus on energy and climate change and how his state has and will shape our future.

Not Surprised

Senator Heinrich is a champion for conservation and energy innovation. We knew that when we supported him in his bid for the U.S. Senate in the 2012 election. So today’s speech came as no surprise to us at the Action Fund.

Senator Heinrich shared many of these thoughts with the Action Fund when he sat down for an interview for our Running Clean: Good Policy, Good Politics report and video series.

Heinrich_interview1

(Click on picture to view video)

In his interview Senator Heinrich said, “I think it’s important for people to realize that this new cleaner energy economy is coming. And it’s not only critical to addressing climate change, but there are going to be winners and losers within that economy. And there are going to be people and countries who lead and there will be other countries that are going to be following and catching up. I want to make sure that not only New Mexico, but the United States is a leader in that. That we realize the jobs and the layers of jobs from the people who manufacture these technologies to the people who install it, to the people who maintain these technologies. You want to maximize your economic impact as part of this new economy by having all of those things done here. We need to move our energy portfolio in a cleaner, more domestic direction over time. It’s not about being right; it’s about moving the country forward.”

New Mexico as National Leader

In his speech today, Senator Heinrich spoke to the fact that New Mexico has built its economy around innovation and technology. Collaborations between the state’s national labs, research universities, defense installations and private sector companies have created jobs and lead the way on developing new frontiers.

He went on to remind everyone that while we are entitled to our own set of opinions, none of us are entitled to our own set of facts, especially in the context of climate change. He urged the Senate to better use facts, data and science to address the challenges we are facing as a nation as our climate continues to change. And in a bold statement, he called on his fellow Senate members to think big and to commit to solving climate change within the decade.

Refreshing

In today’s political environment, isn’t it refreshing to see a candidate elected on his principles and then sticking to them once they arrive in Washington, DC? Senator Heinrich is part of a new crop of leaders from a state ready to lead on progressive energy and climate policy that will protect our health, environment and create jobs. This type of courageous and inspiring leadership will be our nation’s path to energy and climate security and economic prosperity.

 

 

We Need President Obama’s International Leadership on Energy Diplomacy Rather than Governor Romney’s “Pull up the Drawbridge” Approach

Last night’s Presidential debate on foreign policy should have included a question on climate change which is one of the greatest foreign policy challenges and security risks facing the United States and communities around the world. A question would have been especially timely , given the recent foreign policy speech where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid it on the line: “Energy cuts across the entirety of U.S. foreign policy….Transformation to cleaner energy is central to reducing the world’s carbon emissions and it is core to a strong 21st Century global economy.”

Let’s look at some of the key differences between the candidates when it comes to energy diplomacy and climate change. Governor Romney has a “pull up the drawbridge” approach to energy and ridicules climate change. President Obama has already built a track record of actions to promote clean energy and reduce our dependence on fuels that worsen climate change.

Secretary Clinton set up the issue in her speech, saying, “This is a moment of profound change.  Countries that once weren’t major consumers are. Countries that used to depend on others for their energy are now producers.  How will this shape world events?  Who will benefit, and who will not?  How will it affect the climate, people’s economic conditions, the strength of young democracies?”

She emphasized the need for American leadership, continuing, “All of this is unknown.  The answers to these questions are being written right now, and we intend to play a major role in writing them.  We have no choice.  We have to be involved everywhere in the world. The future security and prosperity of our nation and the rest of the world hangs in the balance.”

The Administration is not mincing words here. 

This contrasts sharply with Governor Romney, who has relentlessly pursued a single minded energy focus on North America that boils down to an ‘extract our own resources and pull up the drawbridge’ approach. And he pays lip service to clean energy, but does not have a plan to advance it and would cut important tax credits for renewables.

If we continue with our reliance on ever dirtier forms of fossil fuels, our North American landscapes as we know them will change, carbon pollution will edge us closer to irreversible climate change, and important opportunities to promote clean energy both in the U.S. and abroad will be lost.

Take the proposed massive tar sands oil pipeline, Keystone XL, which Governor Romney has said he would approve.  Not only would this be primarily an export oriented pipeline, greatly diminishing claimed energy security benefits, it is a dirty energy pipeline and not the path to U.S. economic leadership.  As Secretary Clinton reminds us, trillions of dollars will be invested in the next 25 years in generating and transmitting energy globally.  Now is the time for the U.S. to position ourselves as a leader and secure these clean energy opportunities.

The repercussions of climate change are real and are affecting our economic well-being at home and our security abroad. In a year of extreme weather, more and more Americans now understand the impacts of climate change in their communities.  A recent PEW poll found that 67% of the public understands that there is solid evidence the planet is heating up.  And more and more Americans can see how the kinds of changes climate change will bring can hit home – just ask the ranchers in Texas who had to sell their livestock because of the crippling drought.    

 Governor Romney’s response is to ridicule climate change, and his running mate is a long-time climate denier.  But climate change is no laughing matter to Americans and to our allies. 

There is another path.

President Obama has taken critical steps to reduce U.S. oil use through new clean car standards that will also save Americans money and to control carbon pollution by proposing carbon limits on new power plants.  As Secretary Clinton made clear, “Energy is essential to how we will power our economy and manage our environment in the 21st Century.  We therefore have an interest in promoting new technologies and new sources of energy – especially including renewables – to reduce pollution, diversify global energy supply, create jobs, and address the very real threat of climate change.”

That is a future worth looking forward to.

Romney Gets the Energy Facts Wrong in Wednesday’s Debate

The post-debate analysis is in full swing, and while pundits are talking about Governor Romney’s aggressive manner and President Obama’s subdued performance, the real story is how many times Romney strayed from the facts. On energy issues alone, he not only distorted the truth but he also misrepresented his own positions.

It began when Romney said he supported clean energy. This passing remark came after he spoke at length about expanding oil and gas drilling and building the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. It also came after he let us know: “I like coal.”

I am not surprised Romney paid lip service to clean energy. Nine out of 10 Americans say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the president and Congress, and that includes 85 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Independents. And two thirds of Americans want to extend tax incentives for clean energy. 

But Romney’s own positions would thwart the rapidly growing clean energy economy and the tens of thousands of jobs it creating.  He wants to kill incentives for wind power—incentives that enjoy strong bipartisan support, perhaps because more than 80 percent of installed wind power comes from Republican-majority states. And his economic plan calls for cutting clean energy investments by 90 percent, down to just $1 billion in 2014.

Romney repeatedly criticized Obama for his clean energy incentives. But once again, his facts were wildly off base. He cited the $90 billion the Obama administration invested in renewable energy projects, energy efficiency measures for homeowners, public transit, and other stimulus projects, and tried to claim that clean energy received more government help than fossil fuels.

The historic record proves otherwise. A study of by DBL Investors found that the oil and gas companies have received $446.9 billion in subsidies (1918-2009) and the nuclear industry scored $185.7 billion (1947-2009). Up until 2009, meanwhile, the renewable sector outside of biofuels had gotten only $5.9 billion.

The $90 billion the Obama administration has invested in clean energy since then has already delivered amazing returns: wind power has doubled in three years, solar power has quadrupled in four years, and more than 1 million homes have received energy-saving retrofits. More than 150,000 Americans have jobs making parts for and assembling clean cars—hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced vehicles that weren’t even available 10 years ago. And consumers can find nearly 60 fuel-efficient models in showrooms today—up from 27 in 2009.  These cars are putting more money in Americans’ pockets and helping American automakers come back from the brink.

Romney tried to ignore this success by saying half of Obama’s clean energy investments had failed. That’s simply false. While a handful of companies granted loan guarantees have folded, hundreds of other companies are succeeding. In fact, the failure rate for clean energy loan recipients was only 1.4 percent by the end of 2011.

When all the smoke clears and the conversation shifts from style to substance, voters will realize the clear choice before them. One candidate will keep America hooked on the same fossil fuels that have been polluting our air for decades. The other has presided over the largest increase in clean energy in our nation’s history and strengthened public health and environmental protections. Those are the facts and hopefully they will garner greater attention as we head into the next debate.

 

 

Voters Face Clear Choice on Energy, Climate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:          Melissa Harrison, NRDC Action Fund, 202-486-1905, mharrison@nrdc.org


Voters Face Clear Choice on Energy, Climate
               

WASHINGTON (October 3, 2012) –  In response to tonight’s presidential debate in Denver, Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC Action Fund, made the following statement:

“The candidates laid out a clear choice. President Obama wants to invest in energy efficiency and renewable power while protecting our health. Gov. Romney would bet our future on the fossil fuels of the past. This is a choice between responsibility and recklessness, and the choice is ours to make.”

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The NRDC Action Fund’s mission is to achieve the passage of legislation that jump-starts the clean energy economy, reduces pollution, and sustains vibrant communities for all Americans. Now is the time for leadership and action from our elected officials — our current goal is a comprehensive clean energy policy that will repower our economy and fuel our future.www.nrdcactionfund.org

Note to reporters/editors: The NRDC Action Fund is an affiliated but separate organization from the Natural Resources Defense Council. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, the NRDC Action Fund engages in various advocacy and political activities for which the Natural Resources Defense Council, a 501(c)(3) organization, faces certain legal limitations or restrictions. News and information released by the NRDC Action Fund needs to be identified as from the “NRDC Action Fund.” The “Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund” is incorrect. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the NRDC Action Fund can not be used interchangeably.  Also please note that the word “National” does not appear in Natural Resources Defense Council.