Welcome to Clean Start, ThinkProgress Green?s morning round-up of the latest in climate and clean energy. Here is what we?re reading. What are you?
Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday praised North Texas first responders for preventing loss of life during Tuesday’s tornado outbreak and indicated he was prepared to request federal disaster relief. [Dallas Star-Telegram]
Six months after the expiration of a renewable-energy federal loan guarantee program that backed $16 billion in loans to solar, wind and geothermal energy projects, the Energy Department has decided to offer a smaller set of similar guarantees by tapping another pot of money appropriated by Congress last year. [New York Times]
BP Wind Energy and Sempra U.S. Gas & Power officially launched construction of a $800 million, 419 MW wind farm southwest of Wichita, with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in attendance. [Kansas City Star]
A Mississippi man pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges he instructed a crew he was supervising on a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico to falsify information regarding the testing of a blowout preventer. [NOLA.com]
California is one of only nine states that have developed comprehensive strategies and implemented policies to deal with water shortages, droughts, a shrinking snowpack and other water-related problems that are expected to occur as global temperatures increase this century as predicted by scientists, a Natural Resources Defense Council report said. [San Francisco Chronicle]
Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives want federal regulators to take a close look at a recent Colorado study of the practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or ?fracking.? [Glenwood Springs Post Independent]
Eleven environmental organizations are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to better regulate toxic coal ash and citing recent groundwater contamination at 29 coal ash dump sites in 16 states, including two in Western Pennsylvania. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) toured the Xtreme Green Products Inc. electric car plant to promote green energy during the Senate’s Easter break. [Las Vegas Review Journal]
In a Daytona Beach town hall meeting, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-FL) said that speculators in oil futures accounted for 63 cents in the price of every gallon. [Daytona News Journal]
Minority business owners want the Maryland legislature to use its final days pass a measure to develop offshore wind energy. [Washington Post]
Justice Antonin Scalia is no stranger to partisanship — he spent much of last week’s hearing on the Affordable Care Act touting Republican talking points about “broccoli” and “cornhusker kickbacks” rather than examining his very own opinions that establish that health reform is constitutional. Yet, when given an opportunity to echo Republican Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith’s partisan effort to undermine President Obama earlier this week, even Scalia seemed to think that was a bridge too far:
He declined to answer a question about President Barack Obama’s Monday remarks that it would be an “unprecedented, extraordinary step” for justices to overturn the challenged federal health care law.
“We don’t respond to criticism,” Scalia said. “Judges use what’s known as the rope-a-dope trick. It’s judicial tradition.” When the questioner pressed Scalia on who would provide checks and balances to the president, he said that, “We have three branches. They check and balance each other.”
Obviously, Scalia’s comparison between judicial silence and Muhammad Ali’s tactic of tricking his opponent into tiring himself out is not intended to paint the Court’s critics in a favorable light. Nevertheless, it is telling that even the Court’s most strident conservative will not mimic Smith’s transparently partisan tactics.
Joseph M. Kwasnik, reposted from Ceres
The Cape Wind project has received two positive jolts in recent weeks.
First came the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision upholding a long-term power agreement for National Grid to purchase half of Cape Wind?s 454 megawatts of wind power for at least 15 years.
Yesterday the second came ? Massachusetts regulators gave final approval to a merger between NStar and Northeast Utilities, which includes a commitment by NStar to buy slightly more than a quarter of Cape Wind?s project?s electricity for 15 years.
With these key contracts in place, Cape Wind can secure the financing it needs to begin construction next year. After a tortuous decade-long journey, the project?s football-field sized wind turbines will start producing electricity as early as 2015. That?s an enormous breakthrough for homegrown renewable energy powering the Massachusetts and New England economies.
The rest of Cape Wind?s power will be sold into the competitive daily wholesale electricity market overseen by New England?s electric grid operator, ISO-New England. Cape Wind?s bids into the market will be among the lowest-priced electricity because generators can only bid the actual production costs of their electricity. For Cape Wind, their electricity has a close to zero cost because their fuel, wind, is free. On the other hand, generating plants fueled with coal or natural gas must include their fuel costs in their bids, thus making their electricity more expensive than Cape Wind?s.
Because of this Cape Wind will provide much needed downward pressure on electric wholesale rates in New England. This pattern is well documented in organized wholesale energy markets such as ISO-New England, the Eastern US grid and many European markets.
In these regions, wholesale market prices for electricity are set by the bid submitted by the highest cost generator used that day to meet demand, usually a coal plant or a less-efficient natural gas-fired combustion turbine plant. Because low-cost renewable resources such as Cape Wind (which have no fuel costs) typically submit wholesale electricity bids that are much less expensive than those of fossil-fueled generators, these low cost resources tend to bump higher cost generators from the market – thus establishing a lower price for electricity.
The net result is that Cape Wind will keep the region?s wholesale electricity bills down ? by an estimated $286 million a year, according to Charles River Associates – while helping to keep our air clean.
This downward pressure comes at a critical time; costs of producing electricity from regional coal plants and older natural gas plants are rising due to increasing fuel costs (for coal) and the increasing operating costs of aging power plants and new pollution controls required to keep them in operation.
The Cape Wind project brings other additional benefits, including 162 permanent jobs to operate the facility and a stable source of local, clean electricity for Cape Cod and the Islands.
Ceres, in its recent report, The 21st Century Utility: Positioning for a Low-Carbon Future, that for electric utilities to compete in the coming decades they must diversify their energy mixes with more renewable energy. National Grid and NStar have done just that with their support of Cape Wind.
Although fossil-fueled power plants will continue to play an important role in the region?s future energy needs, we need to boost renewable energy projects here in our backyard, including other offshore and land-based wind farms, utility-scale solar power generating sources and smaller solar sources on roofs in our neighborhoods.
And clearly, we should also be scaling investment in energy efficiency. Since 2007, Massachusetts has dramatically expanded its investment in energy efficiency for a simple reason: Reducing consumer demand for electricity is three to four times less expensive ? and cleaner – than building new power plants, as well as consumer-friendly. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy recently ranked Massachusetts first in the nation for its energy efficiency performance.
So Cape Wind is a major step forward in a tremendous all-around success story. Every link in the chain, from enlightened state policymakers to informed regulators, far-sighted utilities, thoughtful courts, and a small, independent clean energy developer who refused to quit, deserves credit for making Cape Wind a reality. Massachusetts consumers should be embracing it too.
Joe Kwasnik is Senior Advisor for electric power programs at Boston-based Ceres. This piece was originally posted at Ceres and was re-printed with permission.
Over at the competition (am I in trouble, editors?), E.J.?s close-up look at the challenge facing Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts provides a deeper and more thoughtful, not to mention professionally-reported, rumination on the redness of a true-blue state than my blog post of yesterday. You?ll want to read it for a fix while she is lounging poolside, and also to sound smart the next time someone takes the Bay State for granted.
However, in the same vein, she is dead wrong about the true-blue-ness of Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is the liberal college-town stereotype you?ve read about, but grafted on top of a German farming town?a lovely German farming town. Also, most people don?t realize that the Michigan militia was founded just one town over. The day that the ladies in the gym we belonged to were having a spirited locker-room conversation about how glad they were that Mel Gibson had made a movie about the Crucifixion ?just the way it happened? is seared in my memory. So is the day that the Ann Arbor News endorsed John McCain. I don?t usually celebrate when a print newspaper meets its demise, but I made an exception for them.
The Motion Picture Association of America's recalcitrance on the rating of the documentary film Bully has garnered a great deal of attention, as the R rating given to the movie would effectively prevent its been seen by exactly the kids who need to see it. The filmmakers felt, backed up by distributor the Weinstein Co., that it was important to show that, yes, kids bullying each other say "fuck" sometimes, and especially that the power of the film required showing, unexpurgated, a particularly brutal scene in which "fuck" was said three times?more than is allowed in a PG-13 movie. But a compromise has been reached, and starting next weekend a PG-13 version of the movie will be out:
The new cut of the Lee Hirsch film makes some concessions to the MPAA: It removes an obscenity that begins with the prefix ?mother? in an early scene, along with two other quickly uttered F-words. Audio will be dropped out in all three instances.With the change, unaccompanied kids of any age will be able to see Bully, and, perhaps most importantly, the door is open for schools to show the movie in the future. More than half a million people had signed a Change.org petition calling for the rating to be changed.
But the new cut leaves intact a controversial scene on a school bus in which three F-words are used against a bullied child. [...]
Stephen Bruno, head of marketing for the Weinstein Co., told 24 Frames that ?I can say with no stutter that we would have remained unrated if we had to change that scene.?
A disappointing 120,000 jobs were added to the economy in March, well below expectations. However, the topline unemployment rate fell again to 8.2%. The revisions for January and February were mixed, with employment revised down a bit for January (to[...]
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Phyllis Schlafly (Cberlet/Wikipedia)
If you're attending The Citadel, you were in for a real treat this week: A lecture by one of America's foremost Ladies Against Woman, the person that was Ann Coulter before Ann Coulter was ever born, the ultraconservative leading light that made the mom from Leave it to Beaver look like an absolute whore, Phyllis Schlafly:
Schlafly, who led a grass-roots fight to prevent ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, spoke Wednesday at The Citadel as part of the military college?s new course, Conservative Intellectual Tradition in America.Thus semi-conclusively answering the single most asked question about Phyllis Schafly, "Is Phyllis Schlafly still alive?" It also raises another equally valid question, which is why, precisely, the anti-indoctrinating-the-younguns crowd thinks "Conservative Intellectual Tradition" needs teaching at a military school, but I don't expect that one takes much imagination.
And feminists are working through the media and other channels because the American public no longer seems to strongly support their agenda, Schlafly said. ?Feminists are having a hard time being elected because they essentially are unlikable,? she said.Unlike Phyllis Schlafly, godmother of the apocalypse, who is a great deal of fun at parties and not at all an insufferable crank who has subsisted for the last fifty years on a diet of broken glass and seething public hatred for nine-tenths of America.
Schlafly talked to a group of Citadel students about the culture of conservatism and the history of the religious right. She told the all-male group that ?feminist is a bad word and everything they stand for is bad.?I'm not sure where warning the cadets that wily feminist-types will trick them by being all pretty and stuff fits into "Conservative Intellectual Tradition," unless the point of the course is to teach our future military leaders that "conservative intellectual tradition" consists of batshit paranoia coupled with a longing to return to the Salem witch trials ("She's advocating for better working conditions for the masses! Burn her!"), but I think the answer is that Phyllis Schlafly is just really, really that concerned with keeping the menfolk away from sinister feminists. Thus: a college course on how not to date them, even if they're pretty. No word yet on how grades will be determined.
And she warned them about having personal relationships with feminists. ?Find out if your girlfriend is a feminist before you get too far into it,? she said. ?Some of them are pretty. They don?t all look like Bella Abzug.?
Schlafly said she thinks pro-family, pro-life GOP candidates have a chance of winning if they concentrate on bringing good jobs to this county and putting a stop to Obama, who she thinks is doing whatever he wants to do. ?He?s ruling like a petty dictator,? she said.Now I'm not sure what happens to a cadet who might express such an opinion (cough military school cough), so once again that's going to lead to some awkward phrasings, come pop quiz time. But let's all give a warm hand to ... let's see, to suspiciously-possibly-liberal-because-all-professors-are-liberal wealthy pseudoprofessor Mallory Factor (no relation to Factor, The O'Reilly) for making sure his young recruits get good dating tips from a crazy person as part of their regular classwork. Go America!
For the March jobs report, economists were expecting another month where the economy grew by more than 200,000 jobs. Instead, what we received?according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics?was a disappointing backslide into the anemic months of last fall. The economy created 120,000 jobs in March, a huge drop compared to previous months. At the same time, however, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.2 percent.
This looks good, but it isn?t; the employment to population ratio dropped a tenth to 58.5 percent, and if labor force participation had remained steady from February, then the unemployment rate would have grown to 8.4 percent. On the bright side, the composition of the unemployed has begun to change. Fewer are people who lost their jobs, and more are people who chose to leave them. In other words, a growing number of people feel confident enough about the job market that they will choose a brief period of unemployment to find a better deal. This is in line with the latest measure of economic confidence, which is at a relative high:
Because we?re in a presidential election year, the monthly jobs report has added significance. A strong report gives President Obama momentum for the month, and a weak one allows his competitor?Mitt Romney?to make the case against his economic stewardship. If you haven?t already, expect to see the Romney campaign make a statement about how Obama has failed the recovery and made it worse.
The other side to this?as Greg Sargent points out?is that March marks the 24th month of consecutive private sector job growth?since March 2010, the economy has added more than 4 million jobs. Taken as a whole, the picture is unquestionably better than it was when Obama took office, and there?s no reason to think that won?t continue to be the case. To respond to charges of failure, Obama and his team need to continue to put the economy?s performance in its broader context. Whether this will convince voters is, of course, a different question.Breaking Headline: 120,000 Jobs Added in March