Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Good News/Bad News On The Environmental Front

First, from the NYT, comes the bad news.
A new ranking of the world’s nations by environmental performance puts some of the globe’s largest economies far down the list, with the United States sinking to 61st and China to 121st.

In the previous version of the Environmental Performance Index, compiled every two years by Yale and Columbia University researchers, the United States ranked 39th, and China 105th.
The top performer was Iceland, which gets nearly all of its power from renewable sources, followed closely by Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
“Countries that take seriously the environment as a policy challenge do improve, and those that don’t deteriorate,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, who oversees the index project.
The paper does note that because most of the data is from 2007 and 2008, "the index does not fully reflect new efforts by the Obama administration" to improve environmental performance. It also notes that the U.S. scores well in forestry and safe drinking water, but our ranking is abysmal because we score low in areas like heat-trapping emissions and urban air pollutants.

Increasing renewable energy would help decrease our emissions. The good news is that we're advancing quickly in one area - wind power.
Despite a crippling recession and tight credit markets, the American wind power industry grew at a rapid pace in 2009, adding 39 percent more capacity. The country is close to the point where 2 percent of its electricity will come from wind turbines.
According to the NYT, that's up from virtually nothing a few years ago, and they reported that the American Wind Association said "the amount of capacity added last year, 9,900 megawatts, was the largest on record, and was 18 percent above the capacity added in 2008, also a banner year."
The nation’s wind turbines generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 9.7 million homes, according to the report. Last year, Texas consolidated its lead as the nation’s top wind producer, with a total capacity of 9,410 megawatts, about three times more than the second-largest producer, Iowa. They were followed by California, Washington and Minnesota.
And guess what the AWEA credits for the growth of wind power? “The U.S. wind industry shattered all installation records in 2009, and this was directly attributable to the lifeline that was provided by the stimulus package,” said Denise Bode, the trade association’s chief executive.

However, as extraordinary as growth has been in this area, they also point out that it would be better if Congress would pass a a federal mandate requiring that a certain percentage of power come from renewable sources. Mandates already exist throughout the European Union and in China, and in the U.S. 29 states have adopted a renewable power standard, including Michigan, which set a standard of 10% of electricity from renewable resources by 2015.
“The wind manufacturing sector has the potential to employ many more Americans in green jobs, but without a renewable electricity standard to provide a long-term market, the sector will be slow to grow,” the trade group said in its report.
I'm so tired of the U.S. falling behind in everything but the strength of our military. The U.S. should be leading the way in this area instead of falling further behind. And although we're fortunate to have Gov. Granholm and other Democrats with foresight and vision pushing for higher standards, we're still stuck with obstructionist Republicans who would rather help their fossil fuel cronies than our environment. Just imagine how much better our country could be if Republicans didn't always stand in the way.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

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