US states are moving towards a cap and trade system for CO2 emissions

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Photo courtesy of AtomicShark at Flickr.com.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative held its second auction for carbon credits in December. This was the first auction where all 10 states in the initiative took part, and the sale price rose about 10 percent from the previous auction in September, 2008.

These carbon credits have some bite to them; the auction wasn’t just a public relations affair for the local utilities. The northeast is attempting to achieve a major shift in carbon dioxide emissions. Greenhouse gasses from power plants in these 10 Northeastern states are capped at current levels from January 1, 2009 until 2014. Then, the cap will drop 2.5% a year until 10% reductions are hit in 2018.

Now that the carbon cap is in effect, utilities that use coal or natural gas to generate electricity will have to buy carbon credits to offset their pollution. They are likely to pass along the cost to consumers, which will drive up the price of dirty electricity and help make alternative energy sources more competitive. Regional cap and trade systems have already proven effective at reducing Nitrogen Oxide emissions, and policy makers hope to have similar success with reducing carbon. Funds raised from the carbon auction are earmarked for efficiency improvements, building alternative power sources on government buildings, and eliminating emissions from non-powerplant sources.

The RGGI isn’t the only regional group working on a cap and trade system. In the middle of the country, the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord is developing a system that will cover Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and the Canadian Province of Manitoba. Other western states and Canadian Provinces formed their own group, the Western Climate Initiative. WCI membership includes Arizona, British Columbia, California, Manitoba, Montana, New Mexico, Ontario, Oregon, Quebec, Utah, and Washington State.

Some states are tackling emissions on their own. California passed laws in 2006 to reduce CO2 emissions by 20%, and is considering ways to extend the reach of those laws into neighboring states. California plans to roll out a Cap and Trade system by 2012, and the state budget crisis may accelerate the process. A carbon credit auction would raise desperately needed revenue for California, but there’s concern that the money would be squandered instead of spent on reducing emissions.

Federal action is also expected in the near future. The President-Elect, Speaker of the House, and other national leaders have publicly spoken in favor of a cap and trade system. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is facing pressure to treat CO2 as a pollutant. The EPA recently published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to regulate agricultural emissions of greenhouse gas.

Some surprising voices have also spoken out against cap and trade carbon systems. A small number of utilities and businesses who use large volumes of electricity have raised concerns about the costs, but some environmentalists are also skeptical of the concept. There’s a concern that carbon credits don’t actually reduce total emissions, and that flaws in the systems can allow polluters to play a shell game with their emissions. Another concern is that the system wont achieve it’s goals of reducing emissions. The cap and trade system in Europe has been plagued by politics and lobbying, and emissions have risen since it was introduced.

Even with these concerns, the US looks likely to move ahead on efforts to reduce carbon production. Many changes are on their way, and some will arrive sooner than others.

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Photo courtesy of bytepusher at Flickr.com.

In the news: reducing your AC bill, earn cash through recycling and more


Photo courtesy of
Mayank Austen Soofi at Flickr.com.

Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we’re green news junkies. We keep an eagle eye out for the latest science, social, and environmental developments and try to sum up the big picture here. This week, a lot of exciting things are going on.

The news is full of stories about practical ways to save money. One easy way is to save energy and cut your air conditioning bill.

Here are 4 websites that help you earn money from recycling everything from old cell phones and digital cameras to glass bottles and old cars. Recycling e-waste is a double win – with commodity prices sky high, the copper and gold in old electronics are worth some serious cash, and keeping heavy metals out of the landfill is key to protecting the environment.

“We generally see about a 100 percent increase in recycling in mid- to affluent neighborhoods,” says [RecycleBank CEO Ron] Gonen. “In lower-income neighborhoods, it can be up to 1,000 percent, because the recycling rates are so low there.

Also, the shipping industry is taking huge steps to reduce their fuel bills. Surcharges are running out of control, and the profit margins of commercial transport companies are under pressure. In addition to driving slower, truckers are saving fuel with an Auxiliary Power Unit. APUs are widely used in airplanes to provide electricity without running the engines, but their high price has kept other industries from adopting APUs. With high oil prices, and new pollution controls that outlaw idling engines in residential neighborhoods, that could change quickly.

Due to climate change, farmers are now using sunblock to protect certain produce. Presumably, sun ripened tomatoes aren’t on that list.

Could you live a month without buying any plastic? A British Blogger is trying to do just that, and its tougher than you might think.

Is the future going to be human powered? Clubs and fitness centers from Portland to London are adding devices that harvest kinetic energy to power the lights, sound systems, and HVAC. There are even plans for a floating gym that will travel back and forth on the Hudson river under human propulsion.

Organic farming is at least 90% as efficient as conventional agriculture.


Photo courtesy of millwhistle at Flickr.com.

One of the criticisms of organic food is that pesticides, chemical fertilizer, and hormone injections are necessary to produce enough food to feed the world. Naysayers often regard organic food as an indulgence of the wealthy and argue that widespread adoption of organic practices could lead to mass starvation.

This idea has legs, despite being repeatedly discredited. A study in 2002 found that organically grown apple orchards produce comparable outputs to other methods. And just this week, the University of Wisconsin found that organic alfalfa, wheat, corn, and soy beans yield a comparable or even superior harvest to conventionally grown crops.

In this research they found that: organic forage crops yielded as much or more dry matter as their conventional counterparts with quality sufficient to produce as much milk as the conventional systems; and organic grain crops: corn, soybean, and winter wheat produced 90% as well as their conventionally managed counterparts

These results are good news for organic farmers as well as organic consumers. While organic foods and clothes account for just a tiny share of the consumer market today, the organic market is expected to double in size by 2011. If the naysayers are right, this shift in production would reduce supplies at the same time that global demand for high grade food is exploding. Thankfully, organic food has proven that it can meet or exceed dietary needs.

This doesn’t mean that buying organic food is always the best choice. For some foods, the organic label is essentially meaningless (because they aren’t generally grown with fertilizer or pesticides) but foods with the organic label may be priced significantly higher. If you’re on a budget, here’s a list of the 12 foods where buying organic matters the most. These foods are among those most heavily contaminated with pesticides, or where pesticides are often found that pose the greatest risk to humans.

Also, it’s important to consider calorie miles when choosing your food. If the source of organic food is halfway around the world, the food miles spent to bring it to the grocery store can offset the environmental benefits. To raise awareness of food miles, several countries are considering banning organic labels from food that travels by airplane.


Photo courtesy of lillylain at Flickr.com.