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Saturday, February 27, 2010

U.S. Senate may scrap Cap and Trade in exchange for Cap and Dividend

I may have spoke too soon the other day. It seems that a few Republicans in the Senate are not only on board with Cap and Trade but could be willing to support a Cap and Dividend model as the centerpiece of the climate change legislation that the House of Representatives passed last year. I've been a fan of Cap and Dividend since I read about the concept in a few publications and blogs.

The key difference between Cap and Dividend and Cap and Trade is that the revenues that are raised through the auctioning of permits, which would allow businesses to emit a certain level of greenhouse gases, would be paid out in the form of dividends to American citizens, whereas in a Cap and Trade system the revenues go to the Federal Government, where they are supposed to be used to fund renewable energy projects. The problem, as we have seen with many of these types of government programs, is that legislators seems to always find away to use the money for something other than its intended purpose (in Allegheny County you have Dan Onorato trying to use tax revenues intended for public transit or air quality improvements to build roads).

When it comes to Cap and Trade or Carbon Taxes, many Americans have a legitimate concern (and for once, Republicans have a valid argument against Democratic legislation) that utilities would pass on any increased costs in the form of a new tax or fee on their utility bills. The utilities are almost guaranteed to pass these costs on to us, which is why a Cap and Dividend is the way to go. The dividends that are paid out to citizens would in essence offset any taxes or rate hikes on our utility bills. A bonus of the Cap and Dividend is that it acts as an incentive to consumers to reduce their electricity consumption, since a lower utility bill would mean they would have more of the dividend to keep for themselves.

This past December Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) unveiled the CLEAR (Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal) Act. Which, at only 39 pages, is much simpler and clear cut than the Waxman-Markley climate bill that was passed last summer.

CLEAR is a “100-75-25-0” policy:
  • 100% of the permits to bring fossil carbon into the U.S. economy will be auctioned from day one – there are no permit giveaways.
  • 75% of the auction revenue is returned directly to the public as equal per person dividends.
  • 25% of the auction revenue is devoted to investments in energy efficiency, clean energy, adaptation to climate change, and assistance for sectors hurt by the transition from the fossil-fueled economy.
  • Zero offsets are allowed: polluters cannot avoid curbing use of fossil fuels by paying someone else to ostensibly clean up after them.
    What's not to like about that?

    For more on the CLEAR act, check out Senator Cantwell's website.

    For more on Cap and Dividend read Scientific American's Cap and Dividend, not Trade: Making Polluters Pay

    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    Home Sweet Green Innovators

    I'm happy to report that Pittsburgh Green Innovators has officially found a home in the Hill District.

    "The campus center for the Green Innovations Center will be located in the former Connelly Trade School, in the city's Hill District, where a sales agreement has been finalized. It will house educational programs, serve as a public meeting place and accommodate long- and short-term residential uses."
    This exciting program received a $250,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund for design and construction of the center. They received an additional $100,000 for educational and operational services.

    Other local green recipients of this fund?

    "$210,000 to the Steel City Rowing Club in Verona to construct an energy-efficient boathouse at 100 Arch St., using geothermal heating and cooling, on-site stormwater management and retention ponds, and many other green building components."

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Is the UPMC Line Coming?

    County Chief Executive Dan Onorato (running for Governor of Pennsylvania) has put out a request for submissions to create a private-public partnership Oakland to Downtown public transit option and Oakland Circulator. Obviously, it's an election year. After all, it's been 4 years since Onorato created the panel that eventually became the county Transportation Action Partnership. But who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth. From the official website, the panel hasn't decided on the final transportation mode. It could be people movers, light rail, or bus rapid transit. On registering and logging into the site, you receive access to more official study documents than you can shake a stick at. There will be a "web based information conference" on March 1. We'll see if it's just bloggers and journalists that are listening.

    I'm sure it's just a bureaucratic coincidence that the Final Report of the Transportation Action Partnership was produced in July of 2009, but the official request for private partners was not released until this week - 8 months later and in the heart of election season. But seriously, I'll be a turncoat and vote for Dan Onorato for governor if by the election, a plan is decided upon, money is in place, and a schedule is produced to have a real transportation system in place between Oakland and Downtown with a ground-breaking in 2011.

    In Cleveland, the University Hospital is a proud partner of the bus rapid transit system, the hospital bought the naming rights to the bus system and called it the "HealthLine". This system has been very popular recording a 47% increase in ridership over their previous incarnation. Imagine the decrease in traffic and parking woes if 47% more people took public transit to Oakland. What better way for UPMC to truly show their commitment to this region than to put some major moolah into connecting the iconic Steel Tower UPMC building to their multitude of hospitals in Oakland. When will we see the UPMC Line?

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    Green Is Good Money for Mitchell's

    The long-term (and short-term) benefits of being green are being felt throughout the region in the most surprising of places. Jim Mitchell of Mitchell's Restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh caught wind of the green movement when he realized he was giving away his restaurant's used fryer oil for free. Mitchell's Restaurant has been in business for over 100 years. They offer a classic menu with highlights of burgers, meatloaf and beer. Jim Mitchell, himself, will tell you that the only green he cares about is money. So why is this restaurant going green, environmentally? Because Jim realized it would save him money.

    The restaurant spends $60,000 per year on electricity and gas, and because of the recent economic downswing Jim was considering laying off some long-standing employees. Last week, he received a free energy audit. He's already changed his light bulbs to energy efficient bulbs and has exterior LED lights to illuminate his downtown corner. Through contacts in the mayor's office and the county, he's lining up for grants and loans. He's waiting on a proposal from a local company to convert his fryer grease into electricity. To be honest, when I met at Green Drinks last Friday, he was as excited about greening up his restaurant as a kid in a candy store.

    If a bar/restaurant that's been open in the same family for over 100 years can change its ways to be green while saving money, why can't every business in the city?

    If you know of any other success stories in the Pittsburgh region, let me know. I'd love to chronicle them here and put a spotlight on Pittsburgh's innovative small businesses.

    Lastly, if you want to encourage our small businesses to continue on a green path, the best way is to put your money where your mouth is. Stop by Mitchell's for happy hour, a post-Penguins game drink, or for a comfort food lunch downtown.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Green Drinks Pittsburgh

    Interested in green issues in Pittsburgh? Tonight at Mitchell's in downtown Pittsburgh (and every third Friday night), Green Drinks Pittsburgh gets together to chat green. This weeks chatting will revolve around "Turning waste plastic into an alternative clean energy source" hosted by Gerald Driggs.

    Check out the website for more information. Maybe I'll see you there?

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    It's Always Sunny in Pittsburgh

    If Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration has its way, next year when you are shopping at the Waterfront, you might do a double-take. If you look across the river towards Glen Hazel, you will see a field of solar panels. The administration is proposing a site ravaged by coal mining becomes a solar panel farm - the ultimate in reuse. The Glen Hazel location was picked because it's on a south-facing, city-owned property that can't be redeveloped as feasible residential or commercial office space because of coal mines beneath the surface.

    Germany, one of the international leaders of solar energy use (and a country no more sunny than Pittsburgh), generates 1% of its power from solar panels thanks to some hefty tax breaks. Market analysts expect that Germany will be generating 25% of its power from solar energy by 2050. Solar energy is also taking off nationally in the USA from Southern California all the way up to Oregon.

    In other news, I learned about a new Pittsburgh neighborhood today. Did you know Glen Hazel was one of the city of Pittsburgh's 90 neighborhoods?