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By Lauren Urbanek
Hotels, offices, stores and other commercial spaces across the U.S. are reaping benefits from new energy efficiency standards taking effect this year, one of which is the largest ever set by the Department of Energy (DOE). Consumers will see lower bills from these efficiency efforts, which were finalized during the Obama administration, even as the Trump DOE seeks to stall new standards.
By Jennifer Chen
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently proposed that American consumers further subsidize certain power plants (essentially, coal and nuclear power plants) by paying them billions of dollars to stockpile 90 days worth of fuel onsite. This proposal hinges on the idea that onsite fuel will somehow provide the electric grid with "resilience." But the DOE never explained what "resilience" means, let alone how making coal piles bigger would help.
The proposed rule is now before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the electric grid authority, which is taking public comment. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recommended that FERC reject the DOE proposal and outlined a framework for what developing a concept for resilience should include, at minimum. Comparing DOE's proposal to this framework exposes the proposal for what it really is—an irrational fixation on bailing out uneconomic, polluting power plants without regard for impacts on consumers.
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By Miles Farmer
Department of Energy (DOE) Sec. Rick Perry just proposed a massive bailout for coal and nuclear power plants. The radical and unprecedented move is couched under a false premise that power plants with fuel located on site are needed to guarantee the reliability of the electricity system. The proposal relies on a mischaracterization of DOE's own recent study of electricity markets and reliability (discussed here), which if anything demonstrated that this kind of proposed action is not justified.
If adopted, the proposal would essentially ensure that coal and nuclear plants in regions encompassing most of the country continue to run even where they are too expensive to compete in the energy market. It would saddle utility customers with higher costs, while posing obstacles to the electricity system integration of cleaner and less risky energy sources such as solar and wind.
As the Trump administration tries to dismantle years of hard-won climate regulations in favor of fossil fuel development, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) boasted about reaching a renewable energy goal, enacted by President Obama, three years early.
The DOE announced Tuesday that the solar industry has achieved the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative—a program that launched in 2011 to cut costs to six cents per kilowatt-hour in order to broadly deploy solar energy systems around the nation.
Natural gas and market forces are the largest influence on the retirement of coal-fired power plants, a long-awaited Department of Energy study concluded.
The study, released late Wednesday night, proposes slashing certain regulations, including reducing permitting requirements at coal-fired power plants, to make it easier for nuclear and coal plants to keep operating.
Sierra Club sued the Department of Energy (DOE) Monday for the agency's repeated delays in providing information on Rick Perry's ongoing grid study, amid suspicion that draft versions of the study may be dramatically altered by political appointees in the Trump administration.
Monday's lawsuit was filed after the Department of Energy failed to provide documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed on May 1, which requested communications between DOE officials working on the report and outside groups representing the fossil fuel industry or grid reliability experts.
By Carol Polsgrove
Trucks full of liquid high-level radioactive waste may soon be rolling down interstate highways from Canada to South Carolina—unless they're stopped by a lawsuit that the Sierra Club and six other environmental organizations have filed.
The Department of Energy (DOE) plans 100 to 150 shipments of more than 6,000 gallons of waste from the Fissile Solutions Storage Tank in Chalk River, Ontario, to DOE's Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina. The most direct route would pass through New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, to South Carolina. Alternate routes might take the shipments through Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia (or Kentucky) and North Carolina (or Tennessee).
The DOE agreed to take the wastes from Canada as part of an initiative to return to the U.S. radioactive materials that could be used for weapons. The suit argues that wastes from the production of medical radioisotopes are "acknowledged to be among the most radioactively hazardous materials on Earth." It calls for an environmental impact statement that would analyze the hazards of transporting them, including "leakage of the liquid contents due to sabotage, accident or malfunction or from the emanation of penetrating gamma and neutron radiation from the cargo during transportation due to accidental criticality or inadequacies in shielding." The suit comes after nearly four years of requests from environmentalists for a study of the shipments' environmental impacts.
No liquid high-level radioactive waste has ever been shipped on public roads in the U.S. Plaintiffs argue that carrying out these shipments without an environmental impact statement would violate both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Atomic Energy Act and "cause serious and irretrievable procedural injury, if not actual personal physical injury and property damage, to people living along the route in two countries." Critics argue that the wastes could be "down-blended" at Chalk River (so that they are no longer usable in weapons), solidified and safely stored there.
Three members of the Atlantic (New York state) chapter of the Sierra Club are named as individuals who could be harmed by transport of these wastes near their homes. Sierra Club members along the potential routes have pressed for an environmental impact statement by signing letters and petitions, holding press conferences and talking with elected officials. The South Carolina Chapter, the Wenoca Group (western North Carolina) and the Atlantic Chapter have all played active roles in drawing public attention to the shipments.
"As you know, the [western North Carolina] economy is heavily tied to our local food and beverage production and the status of the mountains as a place for health," wrote protesting organizations in a Jan. 11 letter to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. "A nuclear accident in this area could decimate the economy based on health and visitors seeking outdoor recreation."
Joining the Sierra Club in the suit are Beyond Nuclear, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Savannah River Site Watch, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Lone Tree Council and Environmentalists, Inc. After the suit was filed, the Department of Energy agreed to put shipments on hold until at least Feb. 17. A judge heard oral arguments in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Jan. 18.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
By Lauren McCauley
During his confirmation hearing on Thursday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was able to laugh off having once called for abolishing the Department of Energy, which he is now poised to lead, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) refused to let him get away "sounding like a hung over frat boy," as one observer put it, when speaking about the crisis of climate change.
Sanders repeated Perry's own 2011 statement that he does not believe in global warming that America "should not spend billions of dollars addressing a scientific theory that has not been proven."
"That position is a variance with virtually the entire scientific community that has studied climate change," Sanders observed before asking, "do you still hold the views that you expressed in 2011? ... Do you agree with those scientists that it is absolutely imperative that we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency so that we can leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations?"
Perry responded by delivering what The Hill described as Republicans' "new line on climate change."
"I believe the climate is changing," Perry said. "I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by manmade activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn't compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy or American jobs."
"Governor, I don't mean to be rude," Sanders interrupted. "We are in danger of spending God knows how many billions of dollars to repair the damage done by climate change. Drought is becoming a major crisis, it will impact agriculture in a very significant way."
"Let's get beyond the rhetoric," Sanders continued, "the majority of scientists who study this issue think that climate change is a global crisis. It's not a question of balance this and balance that. It is a global crisis that requires massive cuts in carbon and transformation of our energy system."
Then stopping Perry's interjection about his record of lowering emissions in Texas, Sanders said: "I am asking you if you agree with the scientific community that climate change is a crisis and if we need to transform our energy system to protect future generations?"
It is worth noting, as Climate Progress's founding editor Joe Romm did, that Perry's retort about lowering carbon and sulfur emissions speaks to his lack of knowledge as well as how Republican efforts to rollback emissions regulations are at odds with climate science.
As Romm reported, "the reductions in sulfur dioxide and NOx that Perry is now bragging about were due to EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] regulations that Republicans like Perry fought against from the get-go. And now team Trump wants to kill the EPA regulations that would keep lowering carbon emissions."
Sanders also pressed Perry to state whether he thinks that "testing nuclear weapons is a dangerous idea." Perry sidestepped, saying he wants "a nuclear arsenal that is modern and safe" and that he will look to nuclear scientists for answers on whether they should be tested.
Perry added, "I think anyone would be of the opinion that if we don't ever have to test another nuclear weapon, that would be a good thing, not just for the United States, but for the world."
Watch the exchange below:
Sanders is not the only lawmaker who took issue with Perry's past statements on climate change.
During the hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) quoted Perry in 2014, when he declared: "I don't believe we have the settled science by any sense of the imagination. Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disserve to the country and a disservice to the world."
"Now," Franken continued, "I see in your testimony that your views have been evolving on this and you note that man is responsible for some climate change. How much climate change do you think that science shows is due to human activity?"
Perry interjected: "It is far from me to be sitting before you and claiming to be a climate scientist. I will not do that."
To which Franken retorted, "I don't think you're ever going to be a climate scientist, but you are going to be head of the Department of Energy."
What the exchange below:
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
By Rob Cowin
There's a clear trend in the president-elect's cabinet appointments—many of them are opposed to the agencies they would lead.
Some have demonstrated opposition to the particular agency and/or its mission in a professional capacity. Others have stated a desire to see the agency disappear altogether, suggesting the institution has no value.
Rick Perry's appointment to head the Department of Energy (DOE) is certainly consistent with this trend; in a 2011 presidential debate he famously forgot the name of the agency he would abolish. And now he's been nominated to lead it.
Why does it matter and what should we expect?
Is Gov. Perry the Right Fit?
The DOE has important national security responsibilities. It's primarily a weapons and environmental management agency, and the secretary position requires strong management skills.
One of DOE's most important responsibilities is making sure things like this (handling nuclear weapons) happen safely. Wikimedia
The DOE is also a science agency. While it's not essential that the secretary be a scientist, it's important that the secretary understands and values science and the scientific process.
Gov. Perry can certainly make a credible case that he's a good manager and he even has some experience with spent nuclear fuel policy in Texas. But he's also made numerous inaccurate and misleading scientific statements and rejects the scientific consensus on things like climate change. If Rick Perry is truly "very intent on doing a good job," he'll need to hit the reset button on his approach to science and science policy, start talking to the experts and stop making irresponsible statements.
As governor, though, he was savvy enough to see the economic and jobs potential of renewable energy, garnering a reputation as a pragmatist. The Texas wind industry, much of it under Perry's governorship, has provided $33 billion in capital investment to the state and supports more than 24,000 jobs and 38 manufacturing facilities, all while generating an incredible 18,531 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity.
How much credit Gov. Perry deserves is debatable, but his record should provide clean energy advocates some cautious optimism. One can work with a pragmatist; it's the ideologues you have to watch out for.
What the Department of Energy Does
Most of DOE's focus is nuclear weapons-related. The agency includes the National Nuclear Security Administration, with the vast majority of the agency's budget allocated to maintaining our nuclear arsenal and managing the cleanup of radioactive waste, much of it from the legacy of the Cold War.
DOE also does a lot of basic science research. DOE manages our 17 national labs, which employ roughly 110,000 people, are supported by Republicans and Democrats, and have helped the U.S. remain at the forefront of science and technology innovation since WWII.
DOE invests in basic scientific research.Sandia National Laboratories
The national labs continue to produce breakthroughs that aid our national security and economic competitiveness, as well as increasing our understanding of everything from automotive engineering, to environmental health, to computer science, to the origins of our universe.
Idaho National Laboratory / Flickr
Outgoing Department of Energy (DOE) Sec. Ernest Moniz announced a new "scientific integrity policy" Wednesday, which may indicate a midnight move from the Obama administration to protect scientists and scientific work from a possibly hostile Trump presidency.
"The cornerstone of the scientific integrity policy at DOE," the eight-page memo reads, "is that all scientists, engineers, or others supported by DOE are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views."
While Moniz did not mention Trump or the future administration in his remarks, DOE refused to provide the names of scientists working on climate last month in response to an ominous questionnaire sent by the Trump transition team.
For a deeper dive: