The Obama administration is not allowing the looming mid-term elections to halt efforts on climate and energy. Nor is it totally distracted by the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe. Indeed, last week the President launched an initiative that would reduce the amount of oil needed in the US, and also the amount of pollution, by improving the fuel economy standard of cars and introducing sports-utility and truck efficiency regulations. Launching the programme, Obama said:
“I believe it’s possible in the next 20 years for vehicles to use half the fuel and produce half the pollution that they do today.”
Cars and trucks account for more than 60 % of US oil consumption and more than 25% of carbon pollution. The new regulations for passenger vehicles will require a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2016 (see Reuters: U.S. unveils new push for more efficient cars).
The administration is also promoting alternative fuels. The Department of Energy’s Clean Cities has $300 million in Recovery Act funding to support the investments made by transit authorities, state governments, and local governments in clean vehicles and alternative fuel infrastructure. Twenty-five projects will put more than 9,000 alternative fuel and energy efficient vehicles on the road, establish 542 refuelling locations, and install more than 1,000 electric charging stations nationwide. The projects include the use of natural and renewable gas, electricity, and hybrid technologies. Even natural gas is better for the climate than is oil. However, the Clean Cities projects also include biofuels, which are often worse for the climate.
There has also been significant expenditure on climate-relevant programmes, including:
- $452 million in Recovery Act funding to enable 25 communities to increase energy efficiency building retrofits.
- $100 million for solar PV manufacture and installation.
- $62 million for 13 concentrated solar power (CSP) projects.
- $39 million for marine renewables such as wave power.
- $20 million for research, development, and demonstration of geothermal technologies.
- $10 million to help accelerate the adoption of solar energy among local governments.
- $3.9 million for biogas on farms.
It is not only the Federal Government that is taking sensible action. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to improve commercial building energy efficiency, in partnership with several state governments and utilities. Maine and Virginia are both taking significant steps to develop offshore wind power.
So why are Americans doing this? Clearly, it is partly to increase energy security – to avoid having to import so much oil – or to have to drill for so much oil off the US coast. However, it is also partly about controlling climate change. The EPA has recently published Climate Change Indicators in the United States. This reports that:
- Between 1990 and 2008, US greenhouse gas emissions from human activities increased by 14%.
- Average temperatures are rising. Seven of the top ten warmest years on record for the continental United States have occurred since 1990.
- Tropical cyclone intensity has increased in recent decades. Six of the 10 most active hurricane seasons have occurred since the mid-1990s.
- Sea levels are rising. From 1993 to 2008, sea level rose twice as fast as the long-term trend.
- The frequency of heat waves has risen steadily since the 1960s. The percentage of the US population impacted by heat waves has also increased.
However, we should not be complacent or assume that enough is being done. Over $6 billion was dispersed to state and local governments by the Department of Energy under the economic stimulus Act. Some went on clean energy, but much more went on expanding dirty energy.