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Friday, January 24, 2014

Is philanthropy the answer to funding public parks? No.

Margaret Walls of Resources for the Future has written this excellent blog and important issue brief on the – limited - role of philanthropy in funding public parks. It follows important work published last year that I blogged about – and opined about - here.

At the risk of being self-referential, I’ll restate my strongly held belief. Across the nation, the concept of the commons – of natural resources that are held in trust for the benefit of all people, that are accessed, shared, used, and enjoyed by all – is at grave risk. This is a fundamental deterioration of our democracy, and calls into question what kind of society we are becoming – or have already become. 

Privatization, philanthropy, and other alternative financing tools should have very limited roles in providing for public parks. They are not – and should not be allowed to become - substitutes for public funding of these essential services. Citizens should demand no less.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Strong advice to a strong President on climate and clean energy

President Obama, in my view, has been a champion of clean energy and combating global climate disruption, despite five years of intense, destructive opposition to not only his policies but the actual functioning of our government.  The Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) at Colorado State University has prepared a new report on additional actions that the President and his executive agencies can take to address climate disruption and the nation’s clean energy goals that do not require the assent of a barely-functioning Congress.

  1. Doubling energy productivity
  2. Financing renewable energy
  3. Producing natural gas responsibly
  4. Developing alternative fuels and vehicles, and
  5. Enabling electric & gas utilities adapt to the new realities of the 21st century.
The report has these recommendations on natural gas:

It’s essential reading, and I hope, will be the subject of more deep Presidential thinking and more strong Presidential action.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Center for Sustainable Shale Development launches programs to cool industry response

Less than a year after its creation, the Center for Sustainable Shale Development has launched its certification and verification programs - based on 15 initial performance standards - and has hired an auditor.

The response from the industry so far is at best tepid, if not dismissive

I don't believe that there's any substitute for stronger regulations, enforcement, and monitoring. They are essential functions of government. But collaborative efforts can be instrumental in raising the performance bar for the gas industry. The Center and its participants - particularly the industry members who will seek certification - have made a commitment to objective, measurable standards and transparency. Those elements are sorely needed - and for the most part lacking - in the hyperbolic debate that swirls around unconventional oil and gas development. 

It's certainly appropriate to scrutinize the standards, but the fact is, all involved have put themselves on the line with this effort. It should be applauded, not ignored. The industry fails to support this at its peril.

Will shale gas companies step up? And what will it mean for the industry if they don't?

Quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on PA's "energy plan"

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has released this energy plan - which really isn't a plan at all but a marketing piece. I'm quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on what I see as a major shortcoming of the plan (among many that I won't go into here) - that it fails to propose anything, especially to use the Keystone State's natural gas bonanza to drive the deployment of renewable energy - and the jobs that would come with it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Come on, IRENA

The global renewable energy share today is about 18% (while in the US it was a third less - 12% in 2012). On its current trajectory, the world’s share will rise to a mere 21% in 2030 (and only 16% in the US by 2040).  A report issued yesterday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says that renewable energy could exceed 30 per cent by 2030 at no extra cost.

Analyzing the energy supply and demand of 26 countries that account for 74 per cent of projected global consumption in 2030, REmap 2030 suggests five areas of action for doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix based on current technologies: 
  • Establishing national targets and plans to get there;
  • Creating a business environment that reduces risk for investors and ensures a level the playing field for energy options; 
  • Managing knowledge of technological options and deployment;
  • Developing renewables-enabling energy grids; and 
  • Promoting international technology markets and supporting innovation.

IRENA says that these strategies and energy efficiency measures could reduce global CO2 emissions by 21%. Keep in mind, however, that 30% renewables – while a worthy goal – doesn’t get is close to where we need to go: 
In order to stabilize CO2 concentrations at about 450 ppm by 2050 [a target which some scientists consider disastrously high], global emissions would have to decline by about 60% by 2050. Industrialized countries greenhouse gas emissions would have to decline by about 80% by 2050.
The threads that run through all of IRENA's prescriptions for increased renewable energy is national commitment, and political will - both of which have been sorely lacking in the US (the military being a notable exception) and abroad. What will change that? Or, at least in the US, who?

Monday, January 20, 2014

CA’s shale oil boom may dry up

The Monterey Shale formation, which lies beneath much of central California, could hold more than 15 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration – about three times the reserves believed to be in the Bakken formation in North Dakota. But according to an analysis by The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  because production is dependent on water-intense hydraulic fracturing, much of that oil may never be produced.

The most obvious – and ominous - issue identified Carnegie is water scarcity. California is enduring extreme drought, with 2013 being the driest year ever in the state. In addition, conflicts with agricultural production are huge. The chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing present contamination threats to dwindling groundwater resources.  The threat of induced seismicity from wastewater injection in an earthquake-prone state like California is self-evident.  And California’s geology is much more complex than that of North Dakota or Texas.

All of these water-borne risks and their impacts on people, the natural world - and the oil/gas industry - should sound familiar to readers of this blog.

Will the Golden State provide a compelling business case for an urgent drive to waterless, chemical-free fracking?