Thursday, January 24, 2008

2008 Environmental Performance Index

The results are in...and we come in 39th.
Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Yale University, Daniel C. Esty Director

The 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) quantitatively tracks national performance on a core set of environmental policy goals for which every government can be – and should be – held accountable.

The EPI focuses on two overarching environmental objectives:
1. Reducing environmental stresses to human health, and
2. Promoting ecosystem vitality and sound natural resource management.

The two overarching objectives are gauged using 25 performance indicators tracked in six well-established policy categories, which are then combined to create a final score.

Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden top the list, while Sierra Leone, Angola, and Niger rank at the bottom.

See the rankings and learn more about the index at

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Advancing the New Energy Economy

Green Jobs and Investment in California
Green Tech Summit, Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco, January 14, 2008

This one-day summit was attended by nearly 800 investors, policy makers, educators, industry experts, and labor leaders to discuss investment, growth, and job opportunities in green tech. It was a very interactive and educational meeting with the primary goal to identify mechanisms to achieve tangible economic, environmental, and social benefits through California's progressive climate and environmental policies.

The summit began with opening addresses from Timothy Alan Simon, Commissioner for the California PUC, Willie Brown, former Mayor of San Francisco, and Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco.
- Amongst other things, Willie Brown said buy his "g*ddamn book".
I missed a lot of what he said because the audience was laughing so loudly.
- Gavin Newsom basically said that San Francisco is committed to going green, and showed a very hip music video to prove it. He also mentioned some more concrete examples, including the transition to natural gas-powered taxis, the carbon neutralization of the city through the purchase of locally based carbon offsets from three SF-based trading companies, and the move toward replacing revenue from city payroll taxes by assessing carbon taxes.

Later in the day we were also treated to video feeds from California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (live) and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (not so live), as well as a visit from Attorney General and former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Jerry Brown had some pithy advice for the forward-looking audience:
- There will be resistance to moving towards a green economy. Some people think that talking about the future is 'flaky', so try to make it all sound like yesterday.
- Try not to get too far ahead of yourself.
- The road ahead is rocky, with obstacles, and strewn with Republicans.

The first panel, moderated by Phil Angelides, Chairman of the Apollo Alliance and former Treasurer and Democratic candidate for Governor, focused on how to prepare California for a booming green economy. The panel comprised Van Jones, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Peter Darbee, Chairman of the Board, CEO, and President of PG&E, Nancy Pfund, JPMorgan, Dr. Marshall Drummond, Chancellor of the LA Community College District, and Jay Hansen, Legislative and Political Director of the State Building & Construction Trades Council. The panel identified that there are large gaps between labor demand and supply, and a significant need to develop a diversified and skilled green workforce. Some key comments:
- Training and education in green technologies needs to begin with vocational training and adequate training investment, starting in primary and secondary schools, community colleges, and prisons.
- There needs to be equity in the new green workforce. The green economy should be inclusive, especially of those who were left out of petroleum-powered industry jobs.
- With only 4% of the world's population, the US accounts for 25% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and 25% of the prison population (of those known to be incarcerated?).

The second panel, moderated by Dan Kammen of UC Berkeley, focused on how to go from investment and innovation to green jobs to meeting the state's climate change goals. The panel comprised Julie Blunden of SunPower, Nancy Floyd of Nth Power, Joseph Perkins, President and CEO of the Home Builders Association of Northern California, and Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives for and former Assistant Energy Secretary under President Clinton. The panel proposed that in addition to private investment, there need to be government incentives to initially subsidize the green economy, just as the petroleum economy has been subsidized historically. Some key comments:
- Solar/thermal energy technology and application is growing exponentially. It is estimated that solar energy costs will decrease 50% by 2012 as compared to today's costs.
- 10% of today's venture capital dollars are going to research, development, and product innovation in new energy technologies.
- 50% of US energy still comes from coal. We need a carbon price and cap immediately.
- The easiest and largest energy efficiency gains to be made right now come from conservation.

The third session consisted of interactive break-out groups of approximately 150 people each. Each group focused on a different topic, with the goal of developing strategies and solutions that advance clean energy investment in California. My group was moderated by Jose Carmona, policy coordinator for the non-profit Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology (CEERT). Honestly, I didn't hear any concrete solutions come out of our or the other sessions, except one guy did propose that if we could convince 14-year old girls that fuel inefficiency was really uncool, they would never date another guy who drove a Hummer, which would ultimately drive up CAFE standards.

The fourth and final panel was moderated by Bob Epstein, co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). This session basically verbalized the perspectives, experiences, and opinions of the panel members, who comprised Dr. Philip Day, Chancellor of City College of San Francisco, Raquel Pinderhughes, Professor of Urban Studies at SFSU, Peter Liu, founder of New Resource Bank, and Tom Martinez, Business Development Director for the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The summit hosts included the California Public Utilities Commission, the Willie L. Brown Jr. Institute on Politics and Public Service, the California Clean Energy Fund, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the Apollo Alliance.

Other sponsors included Manatt, PG&E, Southern California Edison, Morrison Foerster, Cal-Am, Independent Energy Producers Association, Goodin MacBride Squeri Day & Lamprey LLP, Constellation NewEnergy, Merriwether & Williams Insurance Services, Shell, Blaylock & Co., Grant Capital Management, Renewable Energy Marketing Board, Woodside Natural Gas, EnXco, Bloomenergy, Navigant Consulting, and many others.

And here's a link to an article about the summit published last week in the SF Chronicle.

Sustainability Coming Soon to a Building Code Near You

Sustainable Building Standard Expected by Year-End
Nadine M. Post, Engineering News-Record, January 23, 2008

The first US standard for high-performance buildings--called Sustainability in Building Codes, ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA Standard 189.1P--could be released by the end of the year, according to one of the co-developers of the standard. The proposed standard will provide minimum requirements for the design of new high-performance commercial buildings and for major renovations. It will address energy efficiency, a building's impact on the atmosphere, sustainable sites, water use efficiency, materials and resources, and the quality of the environment indoors.

The standard is being developed by the American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), and the US Green Building Council (USGBC). In writing the standard, the committee "considered and incorporated" other aspects of national initiatives on sustainable buildings, including those of federal agencies, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the US Conference of Mayors.

Read the complete story here:

Not All Biofuels Are Created Equal

Europe, Cutting Biofuel Subsidies, Redirects Aid to Stress Greenest Options
Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, January 22, 2008

There is increasing evidence that the total emissions and environmental damage from producing many “clean” biofuels outweighs their lower emissions when compared with fossil fuels. European biofuel manufacturers and sellers will now have to quantify their fuel’s net effect on the environment before being eligible for subsidies. Governments in Europe and elsewhere have begun rolling back generous subsidies for biofuels, acknowledging that the environmental benefits of some have often been overstated. Under a proposed Swiss directive, for example, a liter of biofuel would have to produce 40 percent less in emissions than fossil fuel to qualify for special treatment. It will be hard to make corn ethanol or even rapeseed (used to make canola oil) meet the standard, said Lukas Gutzwiller of Switzerland’s Federal Energy Office.

Read the complete story here: