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Archive for October 6th, 2009

Green Jobs UnicornTexas is a sparkly mythical wonderland full of unicorns.  And by unicorns, I mean green jobs.  And by green jobs, I mean well-paying, long-term jobs ranging from maintenance to operations, project management, and high-tech engineering.

Wortham: Unicorns are alive, well and working the wind out west

Greg Wortham, Special Contributor

Monday, October 05, 2009

Texas Texas Comptroller Susan Combs was quoted recently in The Wall Street Journal as saying the wind power industry in Texas has created only 500 to 800 jobs and that finding a “green” job in Texas would like finding a unicorn.

“I don’t know where the new jobs are going to come from,” Combs said. “They’re not going to come from wind.” Well, apparently the unicorn is alive and well in Texas. I am the mayor of Sweetwater, the wind energy capital of the Americas and America’s energy solutions center. I guess my town would be as good a place as any to find “the mythical beast” that Combs says does not exist.

A detailed study of the economic impacts of wind energy in our single county was released at the Texas Capitol in summer 2008 that details that Nolan County hosts more wind energy jobs than the Lone Star State’s chief accountant says exist in the entire state. Interviews directly with more than 20 local wind energy companies demonstrated that we have well more than 1,000 wind energy jobs just here.

Even with a temporary reduction in 2009 construction (which is already beginning to gear back up), our community alone has more permanent wind energy jobs than the comptroller says exist in all of Texas. More than $4 billion of capital investment has been spent here since 2001, and the county tax base has increased 500 percent due substantially to wind energy capital investment, numbers that are reported to the comptroller.

And we are not an isolated “greenie” subculture. We are a proud Texas energy community, where 20 percent of the work force is in wind energy, 20 percent is in oil and gas, and 10 percent is in nuclear energy (www.ludlums.com). We are also scheduled for the world’s first commercial-scale carbon sequestration coal-fired power plant (www.tenaskatrailblazer.com). (more…)

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Carbon offset mafiaFor any of you worries about the 1 Billion tons of carbon offsets in the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, or the 2 billion tons in the just-released Kerry-Boxer draft, here’s another reason to be worried.  Some have decried offsets as being similar to a medieval indulgence, where the bearer pays to be able to have the right to sin later (most recently Jon Stewart in his hilarious “Cap’N Trade” segment from Oct 5, 2009)

But now news that among the people getting into the carbon offsets craze are various international crime rings and mafia groups.  This from the Guardian UK:

A revolutionary UN scheme to cut carbon emissions by paying poorer countries to preserve their forests is a recipe for corruption and will be hijacked by organised crime without safeguards, a Guardian investigation has found.

The UN, the World Bank, the UK and individuals including Prince Charles have strongly backed UN plans to expand the global carbon market to allow countries to trade the carbon stored in forests.

If, as expected, this is agreed at crucial UN climate change talks taking place in Bangkok this week and concluding in Copenhagen in December, up to $30bn a year could be transferred from rich countries to the owners of endangered forests.

But experts on all sides of the debate, from international police to politicians to conservationists, have warned this week that the scheme, called Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (Redd), may be impossible to monitor and may already be leading to fraud. The UN itself accepts there are “high risks”.

Interpol, the world’s leading policing agency, said this week that the chances were very high that criminal gangs would seek to take advantage of Redd schemes…

“Alarm bells are ringing. It is simply too big to monitor. The potential for criminality is vast and has not been taken into account by the people who set it up,” said Peter Younger, Interpol environment crimes specialist and author of a new report for the World Bank on illegal forestry.

“Organised crime syndicates are eyeing the nascent forest carbon market. I will report to the bank that Redd schemes are open to wide abuse,” he said.

So, to sum up, carbon offsets not only mean that we won’t have to actually reduce our emissions, instead relying on Enron-style accounting where we just make “reductions” on paper, but these offsets may be going to fund international crime, human trafficking, drugs, etc.  When criminals are running carbon offset schemes, it’s likely the forest we actually paid to protect was clearcut months ago.
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One of my favorite quotes on carbon offsets comes from, of all places, the Wall St Journal, Oct 20, 2008:

“The Federal Trade Commission also is examining whether…credits really represent emission cuts that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. With a tangible product, say, an apple, a buyer can easily judge a seller’s claims that it’s “crisp and juicy and red,” says James Kohm, associate director of the FTC’s enforcement division. Intangible products, such as pollution credits, “have a greater potential for deception.”


However we decide to regulate greenhouse gases, we need to keep our eye on the enforcement mechanism for offsets.  Kerry-Boxer offers some language to monitor domestic monitoring, but with the possibility of so much monkey business overseas, is it even worth dealing with offsets?

Slide 19

“The Federal Trade Commission also is examining whether…credits really represent emission cuts that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. With a tangible product, say, an apple, a buyer can easily judge a seller’s claims that it’s “crisp and juicy and red,” says James Kohm, associate director of the FTC’s enforcement division. Intangible products, such as pollution credits, “have a greater potential for deception.”
Wall Street Journal, Oct 20, 2008

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AUSTIN – Saying that climate change must be considered when new coal plants and other facilities are approved, Public Citizen today sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in the Travis County District Court to require the commission to regulate global warming gases. This case seeks to extend to Texas law the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts  v. EPA, which held that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must regulate it.

“Texas leads the nation in the emissions of global warming gases. If we were a nation, we would rank seventh in emissions among the countries on earth,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The time has come for the TCEQ to take its head out of the sand and begin the process to regulate CO2 emissions from Texas sources. Because the agency will not do so on its own, we are seeking to have a Texas court order it to do so.”

In the past four years, 11 coal plants have applied for permits under the EPA’s New Source Review program, which requires companies to install modern pollution controls when building new plants or expanding existing facilities. If they were all to be built, they would add 77 million tons of CO2 to Texas’ already overheated air. Six permits already have been granted for plants that will produce CO2 emissions of 42 million tons per year. Another five are in the permitting stages, and they would add 35 million tons of CO2 per year.

The issue of global warming has been raised by opponents in permit hearings in all but one of the six power plant cases, but the TCEQ has said it would not consider global warming emissions in the permitting process. Beginning this month, hearings will begin on permits for the remaining five plants.

Texas law gave the TCEQ the authority to regulate climate change emissions in 1991. In May 2009, the Texas Legislature passed a series of laws that would give incentives for new power plants that capture carbon dioxide, allow the TCEQ to regulate the disposal of CO2 emissions, set up a voluntary emissions reduction registry and develop a “no-regrets” strategy for emissions reductions to recommend policies that will reduce global warming gases at no cost to the state and its industries.

Smith noted that the TCEQ is undermining even the inadequate mitigation strategies that several coal plant builders are proposing. The NU Coastal plant promised to offset 100 percent of its CO2 emissions, but the TCEQ refused to make that promise part of the permit. Tenaska is promising to separate 85 percent of the carbon it emits, but it is not in the draft permit from the TCEQ. The Hunton coal gasification plant will separate 90 percent of its CO2, but the TCEQ classified it as an “experimental technology” so it wouldn’t set a precedent for other coal plant applications. NRG is promising to offset 50 percent of its emissions.

“Without the TCEQ putting these limits in the permits, there will be no guarantee that the power plant builders will keep their promises,” Smith said.

“The TCEQ steadfastly refuses to allow any discussion or consideration of CO2 or climate change issues during permit proceedings,” said attorney Charles Irvine of Blackburn & Carter, who is representing Public Citizen in the case. “The State Office of Administrative Hearings administrative law judges have deferred to TCEQ’s position that CO2 is not a regulated pollutant and therefore not relevant during contested case hearings. As a result, all evidence and testimony submitted on these issues has been repeatedly stricken in multiple coal plant cases. We now ask the court for a declaratory judgment to force the agency to follow the broad mandates of the Texas Clean Air Act and recent Supreme Court decisions.”

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts  v. EPA recognized that CO2 is an air pollutant within the definition in the federal Clean Air Act. Public Citizen contends that the Texas Clean Air Act’s definition of “air contaminant” similarly must include CO2. Specifically, the state law says that:

“ ‘Air contaminant’ means particulate matter, radioactive material, dust, fumes, gas, mist, smoke, vapor, or odor, including any combination of those items, produced by processes other than natural.” [Texas Health and Safety Code § 382.003(2)]

“So any gas created by non-natural processes – including CO2 generated by a power plant – under the plain language of the definition is an air contaminant,” Irvine said.

The lawsuit is can be read in full here.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., with an office in Austin, Texas. For more information, please visit .

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