Conservation Update - June 2015

Republicans and Democrats Agree that Campaign Finance Laws Need to be Fixed
The vast majority of Americans believe that the campaign finance system needs major reform, or even to be completely rebuilt, according to a New York Times poll. 84% of those polled said that “money has too much influence in political campaigns today,” and nearly 80 percent favored limiting the amount of money and individual can donate to a campaign. Respondents included both Democrats and Republicans, revealing that this is an issue with widespread support that crosses party lines. Read more here:
House Votes to Cut Renewable Energy Funding, Increase Funding for Fossil Fuels
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to pass the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806). COMPETES is a research funding bill that was originally enacted in 2007 to further U.S. scientific and technological advantages. The version just passed by the House would spell bad news for renewable energy because it increases funding for nuclear energy and fossil fuel research programs, while cutting clean and renewable energy programs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will have funding reduced by 30 percent, or nearly $500 million, while the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy will see funding cut by 50 percent. The Obama Administration has threatened to veto the bill. Read more here:
Study Shows More Natural Habitat Helps Wild Bees
About 35% of the world’s food production is dependent upon pollination from bees, but their populations are declining at a dramatic, unsustainable rate. Scientists have been working to find the cause of this mass die-off, and a new study finds that wild bees show more resiliency when there is more natural habitat and less use of pesticides and fungicides in their area. Read more here:
Oilman Calls for Action on Climate Change
Royal Dutch Shell’s former Chairman believes that investors should divest from fossil fuels. His unexpected comment came in the wake of his expression of concern over climate change, calling the world’s lack of action to address the issue as “distressing.” As noted by TIME magazine, “When the oilmen themselves are arguing for stronger action to fight climate change, it’s probably time to start acting.” Read more here:
FEC Chairman Has “Largely Given Up Hope” on Enforcing Campaign Finance Rules
According to former U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman, “We now live in a country without any effective controls on campaign contributions.” Citing a recent interview of the Federal Election Commission Chair Ann Ravel, Kaufman makes the point that candidates today can flaunt the few rules that still exist after a series of Supreme Court decisions that have gutted the campaign finance system.  His position makes sense given that in Ravel’s interview, she said she “has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.” The only way to combat the influence of big spenders in elections is to educate voters and build the power of people. Read more here:
Survey of Latino Voters Finds Vast Majority Want to See Conservation and Reduction in Carbon Pollution
A new study finds that 80% of Latino voters that participated in the Latino Decisions’ 2014 Election Eve Poll believe that it is “extremely” or “very” important for the federal government to take measures in order to reduce climate changing carbon pollution. This is very significant as Latinos make up the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. In Nebraska, it is expected that Latinos will comprise nearly 25% of the state’s population by 2050. According to Maite Arce, the president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation, Policy-makers need to realize that their engagement in conservation could have a far-reaching impact on elections, and the protection of our clean air, water and public lands.” We agree. Read more here:
Wind Power Never Increased Electricity Costs in Michigan – Rates Cut
An electric company in Michigan has decided to cut their rates because the wind energy in their portfolio has turned out to be cheaper than expected. When Michigan implemented a Renewable Portfolio Standard of 10% by 2015, a surcharge was put in place on customers’ electric bills to cover expected costs of implementing the RPS. However, the increase in cost never happened, and now the companies want to remove the surcharge. This comes in the wake of a dramatic decrease in cost of wind energy. Since 2008, the cost of wind power in Michigan has fallen by half, and is currently half the price of coal.  The decrease in wind energy costs aren’t limited to Michigan. In fact, the US Energy Information Administration projects that on average, wind power will be cheaper than any other type of generation except for the most efficient natural gas technology by 2020. Read more here:
New Mapping Tool Shows Environmental Justice Hot Spots
A new map released by the Environmental Protection Agency shows communities across the nation that stand out as environmental justice “hot spots.” The interactive online map created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlights low-income, minority communities across the country that face the greatest health risks from pollution. The analysis combines demographic and environmental data to identify where vulnerable populations face heavy burdens from air pollution, traffic congestion, lead paint, hazardous waste sites and other hazards. In Nebraska, communities that stand out include Lexington, Crete, Schuyler, Winnebago, Omaha, Lincoln, South Sioux City, Grand Island, Columbus, Norfolk, and Hastings. Check it out here:
Study Finds that Conservation Provides Health Benefits
A new study published this June demonstrates that conservation efforts that preserve biodiversity could have a positive benefit on public health. To come to this conclusion, the researchers analyzed an extensive set of data on disease, climate, demographics, public health services and land use change in the Brazilian Amazon. The Amazon is an ideal study area because it has undergone massive amounts of change due to human activity, but also still maintained some pristine areas. The study found that the incidences of malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhea were significantly lower near strictly protected areas such as parks and other reserves that preserve biodiversity and tightly restrict human use. By contrast, the incidence of malaria was higher in 'sustainable use' protected areas where people were allowed to enter and harvest forest products. According to the researchers, their “findings suggest that strictly protected areas may serve as a barrier to disease transmission." Read more here:
Hillary Clinton’s Announces Climate Change as a Priority
In Hillary Clinton’s official campaign announcement speech, she identified climate change as one of her main priorities. However, while many environmental groups have praised her, others have criticized her for not taking a strong enough approach. Grist notes that pretty much everyone is missing a significant policy suggestion that she made: raising the cost of fossil fuel leasing and using the fees and royalties to protect the environment. This is already something that is done, but raising the fees could increase the costs of fossil fuels. Read more here:
Climate Change Focus of Papal Encyclical
Pope Francis has issued a call to action on climate change.  In his much-anticipated encyclical, he called for a “radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change,” and blamed consumerism, irresponsible development, and apathy for the environmental destruction we are seeing today. He notes that the world’s poor will be the most vulnerable victims, and that it is incumbent upon the developed world to help poorer nations confront the crisis. Many have already denounced the Pope’s statements on the issue as being “political meddling,” and outside the realm of the Church’s morals. The Pope obviously disagrees, and urges people of faith to see it as their moral obligation to care for the environment and take action on climate change. Read more here:
Presidential Candidate O’Malley Makes Clean Energy a Campaign Focus
Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley (former Governor of Maryland), has made clean energy a major focus of one of his first policy rollouts, stating that as President, he would end the country’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2050, and double energy efficiency within 15 years. He said would seek to make the U.S. powered 100% by renewable energy, and would reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Read more here:
Grand Island Makes Clean Power Purchase, Siting Economic and Environmental Benefits
Grand Island has made its first direct renewable energy purchase, signing a power purchase agreement to get approximately 36 MW of power from Invenergy’s Prairie Breeze III wind project, which is to be built in Antelope County this year. According to Tim Luchsinger, Grand Island utilities director, “Diversification of our energy portfolio will reduce the risk of future rate impacts and, in this case, provide additional benefits to our environment and our state.  This is also another opportunity for us to continue to work with other public power partners in providing economic energy solutions for our customers.” The project will bring numerous economic benefits to the community, including:           
  • generating more than $350,000 annually in local taxes, landowner payments, and staff salaries
  • approximately 90 jobs during construction
  • two full-time technician positions
Supreme Court Rules Against EPA
The Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 against one of President Obama’s key air-protection initiatives, which placed limits on mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from power plants. These toxins have been linked to respiratory illnesses, development issues in children, and other health effects. The Court ruled that EPA should have considered the cost of the pollution regulations early in the process when determining whether to crack down on mercury pollution.  In a statement, EPA said it was disappointed with the ruling but touted the benefits that had already been felt from the rule and the plants that were already under compliance. The ruling, the agency added, was "not on the substance of the standards themselves," or the EPA’s authority to make the rules under the Clean Air Act. Rather, the ruling was on the EPA’s process in developing the rules.  Read more here: