By Dan Bakal
For the electric power industry, the signs of change are in the air. Power plants are emitting less pollution than in prior years, and renewable power is a bigger part of the energy mix than ever before. That adds up to cleaner air and a more diverse, resilient and lower-carbon electricity system.
The industry is in the midst of a real transition, and a new Ceres report shows that it?s happening even faster than experts predicted.
On a biannual basis, Ceres assesses the environmental performance and progress of the electric power sector by analyzing the air emissions of the nation?s top 100 power producers in collaboration with M.J. Bradley & Associates, the National Resources Defense Council, Entergy, Exelon, Tenaska and Bank of America.
This is the eighth edition of the Benchmarking Air Emissions report, and this year, the findings were particularly significant:
Those results speak volumes. Cutting SO2 and NOx emissions by a third in just a couple years is remarkable, and it reflects that a clean energy transition is within reach. The drop in carbon emissions is also encouraging, but it is important to ensure that the trend continues by continuing to emphasize renewable energy and efficiency. What we did with SO2 and NOx, we can do with CO2.
What are the drivers of this remarkable change? Primarily, power producers are shifting away from coal-fired generation to natural gas-fired plants and even cleaner, zero-emissions renewable energy resources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy. They have also installed emissions controls for the coal plants they are running, as additional Clean Air Act rules are set to go into effect over the next few years.
Some experts have been anticipating the coal to gas switch for several years now, but these results show that it?s happening faster than expected. In late 2010, Deutsche Bank?s Natural Gas and Renewables: A Secure Low Carbon Future Energy Plan for the United States report predicted that gas-fired generation would overtake coal between 2020 and 2030:
But when you look at the findings of the Benchmarking report and the latest data from the Energy Information Administration, you can see that even Deutsche Bank?s bullish predictions may have been too conservative. The shift has come sooner than projected. In April 2012, coal- and gas-fired generation were equal for the first time ever:
Though we can expect generation sources to fluctuate somewhat with seasonal demand and the price of natural gas, this is still an historic shift for the U.S. grid. As power producers adjust their generating fleets, gas is being swapped for coal in some cases, but in others, coal plants are being retired outright. According to the 2012 Benchmarking Air Emissions report, 12 percent of the nation?s coal-fired generation fleet?about 40 gigawatts of capacity?will be retired. And as the chart below indicates, the plants that are being phased out are largely older, high-emitting generating units:
The majority of the plants being retired are more than 50 years old, and they have some of the highest emissions rates per megawatt of power produced. It?s time to replace them with better, cleaner technologies.
And while utilities typically look to natural gas plants to replace coal, they continue to explore zero-emitting resources. Energy efficiency continues to gain traction and is increasingly being treated as a supply-side resource. From 2010 to 2011, utility energy efficiency budgets increased 26 percent to $6.8 billion, and the nation?s largest electricity market?PJM Interconnection?procured over 900 megawatts of energy efficiency in its latest capacity auction.
These industry-wide trends help to inform the main aim of the Benchmarking Air Emissions report, which is to provide side-by-side comparisons of emissions from power producers across the United States. On a company-by-company basis, the trends are encouraging, but for some, there is still a long way to go to becoming diversified, cleaner power producers.
A good example of these contrasts concerns three of the nation?s largest utilities and their work with energy efficiency programs in Ohio. The state has set strong efficiency goals, with a target of 22.5 percent energy savings by 2025, and these standards affect three large power producers: American Electric Power, Duke Energy and FirstEnergy.
Though they are among the highest-emitting power companies, both Duke Energy and American Electric Power have electric utilities in Ohio that are providing comprehensive energy efficiency programs that are meeting and in some cases exceeding goals. On the other hand, FirstEnergy has been publicly opposing Ohio?s efficiency standards and has delivered sub-par programs thus far. (See this report card for more details on how these utilities stack up.) As each of these heavily coal-burning utilities looks to the future of its generation fleet, they will have to take efficiency and other zero-emissions technologies into account.
And if the projections are correct, that?s where the biggest growth will be. Just last week, EIA released its new projections for electricity generation over the next several decades. They predict that coal?s share of electricity generation will continue its decline, while renewable energy will see the biggest jump up by 2020:
In my opinion, these projections are still too moderate?but it is encouraging to see the EIA, which tends to use conservative assumptions, predicting that this important shift will continue just as utilities are entering a large-scale build cycle of new generation. The Brattle Group estimates that the electric power sector?s total capital expenditures will be about $100 billion a year through 2030. And as Ceres?s previous reports have shown, renewables and efficiency are among the lowest-risk, lowest-cost resources available.
I?m encouraged by the findings of the 2012 Benchmarking Air Emissions report, but there?s more work to do. The electric power industry is undergoing a seismic shift, and we must ensure that when the dust settles the new energy landscape is better?and cleaner?than ever before.
Dan Bakal is Director of the Electric Power Program at Ceres, an organization that mobilizes a powerful network of investors, companies and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices and solutions to build a healthy global economy.
By most accounts, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is a devoted father, dedicated family man and committed church leader. But as his record sadly shows, Romney's family values often take a back seat to his presidential ambitions. Just last week, he cast aside his father George Romney, the man whose rags-to-riches success story Mitt uses as a proxy for his own, all in the name of keeping his mysterious tax returns secret. His wife Ann Romney, the woman who now heads his Women for Mitt Coalition and who her husband says "reports to me regularly" regarding what American women care about, has been hung out to dry over issues including Planned Parenthood, abortion and the family's personal finances. And as it turns out, Mitt's betrayals hardly end there.
In his interview with David Muir of ABC last week, Governor Romney trotted out a new defense of keeping his secret tax returns secret:
"From time to time I've been audited as happens I think to other citizens as well and the accounting firm which prepares my taxes has done a very thorough and complete job pay taxes as legally due. I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president. I'd think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires."
Put another way, if you paid a penny more to Uncle Sam than you could've, you're not just a sucker; you should be disqualified from becoming President.
Just like Mitt's dad, George Romney.
Mitt's idol didn't merely establish a precedent by releasing 12 years of tax returns during his failed 1968 presidential campaign. As Paul Krugman recently reminded voters, the auto magnate and Michigan governor not only paid a lot to the U.S. Treasury, but probably much more than he needed to.
Those returns also reveal that he paid a lot of taxes -- 36 percent of his income in 1960, 37 percent over the whole period. This was in part because, as one report at the time put it, he "seldom took advantage of loopholes to escape his tax obligations."
(The contrasts between father and son hardly end there. As Rick Perlstein documented, George Romney didn't merely develop an innovative profit sharing plan for his employees at AMC and return bonuses if he thought them too high. He also believed that "rugged individualism" is "nothing but a political banner to cover up greed.")
But if Mitt Romney has turned his back on the legacy of his late father, he has similarly shown no compunction about tossing his wife Ann overboard when political circumstances dictated.
Circumstances like those in 2002, when Romney was trying to run for Governor of Massachusetts. Its constitution requires gubernatorial candidates to have been Massachusetts residents for seven consecutive years. Unfortunately, Mitt had not just been running the Salt Lake City Olympics the past the past three years, but also paid discounted property taxes to Utah while claiming his $3.8 million Park City area mansion was his "primary residence." As the Deseret News reported on April 11, 2000, "Romney has declared his Deer Valley home his primary residence for tax purposes." And while Romney pointed the finger at his accountants at PriceWaterhouseCoopers for his failure to file as a Massachusetts resident in 1999 and 2000, he also blamed his wife, Ann Romney:
Romney said he didn't see the property tax bills for his $3.8 million home in Park City Utah because the home was in his wife Ann's name and she paid the tax bills.
(After paying amended taxes in Massachusetts and sending Utah a check for $54,000 for the discount he shouldn't have received, Romney survived a Democratic challenge before the state Ballot Law Commission. But with his week's revelations regarding his efforts to cut the property tax bill on his $12.4 million La Jolla, California beach front home, Mitt's status as a registered voter in Belmont, Massachusetts may once again be called into question.)
But that episode pales in comparison to Mitt's tortured history on reproductive rights for American women. For that, he used Ann Romney as a disposable human shield, which could be discarded as needed.
While Romney now claims he wants to "end" Planned Parenthood, he didn't always feel that way. As ABC News revealed in 2007, Romney during his 1994 Senate run against Ted Kennedy attended a Planned Parenthood event. During a time when he was trying to establish his pro-choice bona fides with liberal Massachusetts voters, Mitt's wife Ann wrote a check for $150 to the organization. When presidential candidate Romney said in 2007 that he had "no recollection" of the fundraiser, then president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Nichols Gamble seemed surprised:
"I can understand that he might not remember the check -- it's surprising to me that he would not remember the event. His main motivation for being there was a political motivation."
Whatever Mitt Romney's motivation in 1994, in 2007 his run for the GOP presidential nomination required a different answer. As Romney explained in May 2007, what his wife did - the same woman who with her entire family converted to her husband's Mormon faith - did not reflect on him. As the New York Times reported:
"Her positions are not terribly relevant for my campaign."
Ann Romney went along with the new script. In a January 2008 interview in Florida, Mrs. Romney brushed off a question about the contribution, protesting "that was 14 years ago and $100. Do you really think I'd remember?"
If not, she doubtless remembered testifying to her husband's position 10 years ago that he was "effectively pro-choice." As Romney's wife Ann explained during his 2002 race for governor, Massachusetts voters need not worry about moderate Mitt protecting the right to choose:
ANN ROMNEY: I think women also recognize that they want someone who is going to manage the state well. I think they may be more nervous about him on social issues. They shouldn't be, because he's going to be just fine. But the perception is that he won't be. That's an incorrect perception.
MITT ROMNEY: So when asked will I preserve and protect a woman's right to choose, I make an unequivocal answer: yes.
But Ann Romney wasn't the only family member Mitt deployed and later discarded in order to make his case as a reliable pro-choice leader for Massachusetts voters. As Salon's Justin Elliott documented in "The Abortion That Mitt Doesn't Talk About Anymore," it was his own family story which Romney claimed during his 1994 Senate run against Ted Kennedy informed his--and his mother's--pro-choice position. When Kennedy labeled him "Multiple Choice Mitt," during their debate, Romney responded with a tale of personal loss:
"On the idea of 'multiple-choice,' I have to respond. I have my own beliefs, and those beliefs are very dear to me. One of them is that I do not impose my beliefs on other people. Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that."
But waver he did. American voters who missed those Massachusetts campaigns wouldn't know of the existence of Ann Keenan, the sister of Romney's brother-in-law who died at the age of 21 in 1963 after a botched, illegal abortion. Of course, as this 2007 exchange with Tim Russert showed, Mitt Romney no longer wants you to know about her, either:
RUSSERT: You talked about your family relative who died from an illegal abortion, and yet President Romney is saying is saying ban all abortion. And what would be the legal consequences to people who participated in that procedure?... So back to your relative.
Romney went on to explain the consequences (loss of license and possible prison time for doctors, though not patients) of his new found anti-abortion views. But he never did get back to his relative.
That's because the tragic story of "dear, close family relative" Anne Keenan wouldn't have been very popular with conservative Republican primary voters. Like Mitt's father, mother and wife (and even their horse Rafalca), she became political road kill on Romney's road to the White House. And that public mistreatment of his loved ones says an awful lot about the character of the man. After all, if there's anything worse than being strapped to the roof of Mitt Romney's car, it's being thrown under the bus.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)
It has now been six months since the announcement of the foreclosure fraud settlement between multiple federal agencies, the state Attorneys General and the five leading banks. It has also been six months since the establishment of the RMBS working[...]
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From the August 9 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
It had happened. When I received the first phone call about the Wisconsin shooting on Sunday, I felt shock, grief, and immense horror. But I could not register surprise. Since the September 11th attacks, Sikhs like me had spent years preparing for this day and trying to ward it off. But with hate crimes and discrimination against Sikhs still rampant, an attack on our gurdwaras?the community?s gathering spaces and houses of worship?seemed inevitable. We just didn?t know when or where or who. Now we do.
Last weekend?s massacre sparked many of the same conversations that came up in the wake of the Colorado tragedy. Politicians, family, and media pundits have commented on gun control, mental health issues, and the gunman?s ?normal? childhood. What is different this time, however, is the discussion of the deceased?s identities. Unlike Colorado or Columbine, all of those killed in the Wisconsin massacre adhere to a common religion, Sikhism, which appears to have been the reason they were attacked. This has complicated many Americans? understanding of what happened. Who were these people? What is this religion? And why are they wearing turbans on their heads?
Though Sikhism is the fifth-largest world religion, and there are now close to 700,000 Sikhs living in the United States, most Americans don?t realize that we have been here for generations. The first Sikhs arrived to work on the railroads out West in the 1800s. Since then, we have served our local communities as farmers, scientists, cab drivers, business owners, doctors, and scholars. Today, one of the largest security contractors for the U.S. Marshal Service is a Sikh-American-owned company. The inventor of fiber optics is a Sikh American. The CEO of Mastercard is a Sikh American. The Bay Area community where I live is home to third and fourth generation Sikh Americans who have never lived in any other country.
Still, that?s not what most Americans recognize about us. If they know anything at all about Sikhs, it is that Sikhs wear turbans. When the religion was created 500 years ago, Sikhs were told to follow a strict code of conduct. The code included the basic tenets of the faith: service to humanity, truthful living and devotion to one God. As a reminder of our commitment to follow these principles, our religious leaders gave Sikhs a uniform. This uniform included a bracelet on our wrists and long, uncut hair and beards that men were required to cover with a turban on their heads. No matter what caste we came from, all baptized Sikhs were ordered to wear the same regalia, no matter where we went. The purpose was for us to stand out. Even 500 years ago in South Asia, most people didn?t look like Sikhs look. Our religious gurus wanted us to be easily identifiable so that people could come to us in their time of need and know that as a Sikh, we would feel obligated to protect them.
But on September 11, 2001, it became clear that our turbans made us targets and not shields in the eyes of our fellow countrymen. The first person killed in those tense days after the 9/11 attacks was a Sikh in Phoenix, Arizona. He was gunned down by a man who called himself a ?patriot.? Inspired by the African- and Jewish-American communities before them, Sikhs began to form civil rights organizations to take in the hundreds of hate crime, employment discrimination, and racial profiling reports that poured in from across the country. At first, we thought these organizations would be defunct after the initial panic of 9/11 had subsided. Instead, they continued to grow and add offices across the country as the stories kept trickling in. In 2008, a Sikh student?s turban was set on fire on his head in New Jersey. In 2009, a Sikh pizza deliveryman was brutalized and nearly drowned in Texas. In 2011, two Sikh men were shot and killed as they took an evening stroll in Elk Grove, CA.
The explanation for these attacks and for the massacre on Sunday lies in our country?s ugly history of manifesting fear of the unknown ?other? as hate instead of curiosity. Since the United States was formed over two centuries ago, there has always been an ?other? amongst us?whether it was the Irish, communists, blacks, women, or gays. All of these communities were targeted because they look or act differently from the majority of American citizens. In many of these cases, the abuse they suffered was because so many of their neighbors had the same sorts of curious questions about them that they now have about Sikhs.
Still, it?s not just a lack of education that sets us up as outsiders. The marginalization of Sikhs has become more institutionalized in the last 11 years. The federal Transportation Security Administration has enforced a policy singling out Sikh turbans for extra security checks at U.S. airports since 2008. Like members of the LGBT community, the Pentagon once refused to allow Sikhs to enlist in the military. No police department in the nation has hired an active-duty Sikh with a turban. Private employers take their cues from the government, with organizations ranging from trucking companies to Walt Disney refusing to hire Sikhs because of our appearance. Gyms, nightclubs, restaurants, and even peewee soccer leagues have cited phantom policies prohibiting turbans from being worn in their facilities. At every turn, we see examples of Sikhs being pushed out of public view.
It is also true that Sikhs and other minorities have found their way around some of these problems by opening their own businesses, pushing for exceptions to blanket policies or taking discriminatory companies to court. Still, why should the default position be that Sikhs be kept out until they receive permission to participate? Wade Michael Philips should have had to engage with Sikhs training alongside him at boot camp, working out beside him at the gym, playing ball with the kids in his neighborhood, even if it made him uncomfortable.
Sikhs are resilient. We will respond to this tragedy in the same way ?other? Americans before us have responded to hate, and in the way that both our Gurus and our nation?s founders taught us?by continuing to fight for a tolerant society with equal rights for all its citizens. We are the new frontline of the civil rights movement.SikhismHeadgearReligion in IndiaSikhDastarTurbanSikh CoalitionSikh diasporaSocial Issues
Just to be clear, this is not from The Onion. It's from a real interview with Mitt "Corporations Are People" Romney?a Bloomberg/Businessweek exclusive, no less.
BLOOMBERG/BUSINESSWEEK: Let?s frame the issue around your tax returns in a slightly different way. If you?re an investor and you?re looking at a company, and that company says that its great strength is wise management and fiscal know-how, wouldn?t you want to see the previous, say, five years? worth of its financials?So Mitt Romney believes:
ROMNEY: I?m not a business. [Four sentences of boilerplate Romneybot tax return spin.] Thanks, guys. Goodbye.
And as everybody knows, there's absolutely no precedent for robot presidential candidates to release any of their tax returns from before 2010 no matter how many Swiss bank accounts or Caribbean shell corporations they may have.
So all you little people out there, you all need to stop holding Mr. Romneybot to this outrageous double standard. Got it? Good. Thanks, guys. Goodbye.
AL GORE will not be going to Charlotte, or Tampa for that matter, but he will be covering both conventions from New York, along with Jennifer Granholm, Eliot Spitzer, as well as Cenk Uygur, and Gavin Newsom.
Vice President Al Gore will be leading Current TV?s coverage of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Coverage of the Republican National Convention (RNC) begins August 27 from 7pm?11pm EST and will continue for all four nights, concluding on August 30th. Coverage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) begins on September 4 from 7pm?11pm EST and will conclude on September 6. – Dylan Byers
Anchoring live telecasts is not as easy as it looks, so this ought to be interesting to watch.
photo via Shutterstock
The administration has been no friend of the press. Sarcasm or critical comments often come from the president and are directed toward reporters. The president dodges questions, plays favorites with reporters right in front of other reporters, refusing[...]
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The DCCC has all it's eggs in one basket: defeating Republican freshmen. As we've seen all cycle, the DCCC just doesn't go after senior Republicans, Republican leaders or committee chairmen. very different from the successful Republican strategy of decapitating House Democrats whenever they can. In 2010 the NRCC targeted lots of top Democrats and beat them-- like Jim Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (first elected in 1974), Solomon Ortiz, Chairman of House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Readiness (first elected in 1982), Paul Kanjorski, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government-Sponsored Enterprises (first elected in 1984), Gene Taylor, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower (first elected in 1989), Rick Boucher, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet (first elected in 1982), John Spratt, Chairman of the House Budget Committee (first elected in 1982), Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (first elected in 1976). They replaced Spratt with Paul Ryan as head of the Budget Committee and Skelton with Buck McKeon as head of House Armed Services. Both Ryan and McKeon are in vulnerable positions in districts Obama won in 2008 and each could be beaten if the DCCC made an effort. They refuse to make that effort and have left Rob Zerban and Lee Rogers, two outstanding candidates, to struggle for funds on their own.
Yesterday The Hill reported that House Republican leaders are crisscrossing the country and raising money to help preserve their majority, a large portion of which comprises freshman members elected in the historic class of 2010. And who are those leaders? Boehner (who the DCCC made sure would have no opponent), Cantor (who does have an excellent opponent, Wayne Powell, who the DCCC is studiously ignoring) and House Whip Kevin McCarthy (who has no Democratic opponent).
House Democrats need 25 seats to regain the Speaker?s gavel. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) put the chances of Democrats winning back the lower chamber at better than 50-50.
Independent political handicappers disagree. Some, including The Hill, predict that Democrats will cut into the GOP majority, but will fall short of the 25 needed.
History is on the GOP?s side. A party with a president in the White House has not picked up 25 House seats since the landslide election of 1964.
Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy have raised record-setting amounts of money to donate to the GOP congressional contenders in the 2012 cycle.
As of mid-July, Boehner topped fundraising charts, raking in nearly $80 million since becoming Speaker in 2011, according to a memo released by his political office. The prolific fundraiser transferred $20 million from his various funding committees to the NRCC.
McCarthy?s leadership PAC contributed nearly $800,000 to more than 75 members of the historic freshman class. He has transferred more than $1 million to the NRCC.
Boehner and Cantor both have headlined more than 100 fundraisers for candidates in 20-plus states, according to data released by their respective staffs earlier this year.
Cantor has raised more than $22 million since the beginning of 2011 and transferred more than $1.5 million to the NRCC, according to data provided by Cantor?s office in June.