Between 2005 and 2010, increasing demand for biofuels contributed to growth in U.S. corn area by more than 6 million acres and channeled a third of U.S. corn output into ethanol feedstock. An understanding of the multiple effects of this rapid growth on rural economies can help inform policies geared toward greater economic and environmental sustainability. Focusing on just one of these effects, ERS researchers estimated the extent to which biofuel expansion helped reshape the spatial pattern of acreage and planting decisions across a wide swathe of the U.S. Corn Belt.
As Ohio pursues parallel -- and contrary -- paths in response to U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, one central person who will help determine the state's energy future is Asim Haque, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. But the quirky energy politics of this purple state are not going to make it easy. Haque on May 9 was elevated to chairman of the commission by Gov. John Kasich (R) following the resignation of Andre Porter. Haque had been appointed to the commission in 2013 and was reappointed earlier this year to serve until 2021. He identifies with neither major political party and calls himself an independent. Republicans in the Ohio Legislature have been pushing for legislation that would require an agency to get approval from lawmakers before submitting a state plan to comply with the federal carbon rule for power plants. GOP leaders also want to extend a freeze on renewable energy and efficiency standards until 2020. Lawmakers adjourned before sending a bill to Kasich. Ohio would need to lower its power-sector carbon emissions rate 36 percent by 2030. That's a tougher goal than the roughly 28 percent decrease the state was assigned in EPA's draft rule.
A $150 million ratepayer-supported renewable energy program remains almost entirely untapped. The Green Energy Market Securitization program was rolled out with the prediction that money raised through bonds would be spent by November. Over 99 percent of the funds are untouched, and only 11 solar systems have been installed since the program started in summer 2015. Consumers can apply for financing to install renewable energy systems under the program. Nonprofit organizations are no longer eligible.
At the Big Law Business Summit last week, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ripped into Exxon Mobil for its stance on climate change. Schneiderman accused Exxon of glossing over the risks that climate change poses to its core businesses in its public securities statements, and then couching its disclosure as first amendment protected. “The first amendment doesn’t protect fraud – it doesn’t protect fraudulent speech,” he said. The Houston Chronicle published its investigation of the brewing legal threats that energy companies face as a result of their disclosures on climate change, comparing it to the situation tobacco companies faced in the late 1990s over their disclosures about the dangers of smoking. In 1998, attorneys general from 46 states struck a $200 billion settlement with tobacco companies, ending years of litigation about whether they mislead smokers about the health risks of their products. Now, there are 17 state attorneys general including Schneiderman investigating whether fossil fuel companies mislead investors in public disclosures about the risks associated with climate change.
Bioenergy produced from crops does not threaten food supplies, researchers funded by the U.S. government, World Bank and others said, dealing a potential blow to critics of the country's biofuels program. There is no clear relationship between biofuels and higher prices that threaten access to food, as some prior analysis has suggested, according to the research partly funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Environmentalists and others have long argued that the increased use of ethanol, produced from corn in the United States and sugarcane in Brazil, threatens global food security, which the World Health Organization defines as "access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food." Critics of biofuels, which are used for transportation, say they could threaten food supplies.
Peabody Energy, America’s biggest coalmining company, has funded at least two dozen groups that cast doubt on manmade climate change and oppose environment regulations, analysis by the Guardian reveals. The funding spanned trade associations, corporate lobby groups, and industry front groups as well as conservative thinktanks and was exposed in court filings last month.
Minnesota’s rural distributed generation customers won a major victory this week when state regulators halted the practice by cooperatives of applying fixed charges for solar installations. Regulators ruled June 9 that cooperatives must file requests for small power production tariffs with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which makes the final determination on those fees. The commission ruled those fees must now be suspended until an investigation is completed. Rural cooperatives lost their argument that the PUC had no jurisdiction in the matter of fixed charges for solar customers. Co-ops believed their boards would be the final arbiters of those charges.
The Environmental Protection Agency must protect the Renewable Fuel Standard as Congress originally defined it nearly a decade ago, Iowa farmer Randy Caviness told the EPA at a public hearing today. He testified on behalf of Iowa Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“EPA’s decision not to follow the intent of Congress in the 2007 RFS is highly disappointing to all of agriculture,” said Caviness, who also serves as a member of AFBF Issue’s Advisory Committee on Energy. “This decision strikes a blow to conventional ethanol production and dampens the prospects for the further development of advanced biofuels.”
The award of a $500,000 grant from the prestigious W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Solutions from the Land (SfL) underscores the priority and responsibility that SfL takes in putting farmers first in developing practices and policies that can meet and address societal needs and challenges. The grant money will be used to design and begin implementing a three-to-five year climate smart/resilient agriculture action plan designed to help Upper Midwest farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions, improve the resiliency of their operations and further enable agricultural landscapes to deliver multiple food, feed, fiber, energy and ecosystems services from the land.
SfL, a collaboration led by an acclaimed group of active farm, forestry and conservation leaders, will link with ‑ and build on ‑ the multi-stakeholder partnerships that have been developing in the region around water quality, food policy and sustainable agriculture projects. The initiative aims to connect leading innovators in dialogue and planning to improve climate resiliency, while achieving nutrition, energy, environmental, health and economic goals.
In California, there is so much solar energy that grid operators have to switch off solar farms. One solution of dealing with the additional power generated is to share the renewable wealth across state borders – but in the West, it's sparking some not-so-neighborly opposition. Nancy Traweek's job is to balance California's electrical grid at the California Independent System Operator, keeping the lights on for 30 million people. She relies on huge natural gas power plants that put out a steady stream of electricity. But lately, Traweek's job has gotten harder because of solar and wind power. If clouds come in, solar power drops off. "That needs to come from somewhere else immediately," she says. So Traweek has to keep the natural gas plants going in the background in case that happens. But running solar, gas and wind together is a problem because on certain days, they make more power than California needs. Traweek will have to tell solar farms to shut off.