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therooseveltinstitution

Sound science leads to sound policy


therooseveltinstitution
2100 M St, NW - Suite 610 Washington, D.C. 20037
www.rooseveltinstitution.org

Catalyst
Volume 1 • February 2009
Copyright 2009

Editor-in-Chief
Adrian Haimovich - Columbia University

Science Editors
Dan Amrhein Stephen Cox Vedant Misra
Columbia University Columbia University Columbia University

Policy Editors
Dario Abramskiehn Nathaniel Edwards Sarah Leonard
Columbia University University of Georgia Columbia University
Gelseigh Karl-Cannon Brandon Hammer Kate Redburn
Columbia University Columbia University Columbia University

Recruitment Directors
Anna Brower Shipra Roy
Barnard College University of Minnesota

Faculty Advisory Board


Dr. Jack McGourty Dr. C. Julian Chen Dr. Jacqueline C. Tanaka
Columbia University Columbia University Temple University
Dr. Martin Pasqualetti Dr. Justin H. Phillips
Arizona State University Columbia University

National Staff
Executive Director National Policy Director
Nate Loewentheil Caitlin Howarth
Communications Director Energy & the Environment Policy Strategist
Nina Coutinho Riley Wyman

Printed by Mount Vernon Printing Co. to responsible forestry standards.

The opinions expressed within Catalyst are exclusively those of the


individual authors and do not represent the views of the editors, faculty
advisors, the Roosevelt Institution, or any of the organization’s chapters,
centers, advisors, reviewers or affiliates.
Contents
Preface
Honorable Representative Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) 7

Letter from the Editor


Adrian Haimovich, Editor-in-Chief 9

Summaries for Policymakers


Global Climate Models 14
Desirability of Non-Point CO2 Sequestration Mechanisms 16
Vertical Farming: Bringing the Country to the Concrete 18
Splitting Water into Hydrogen and Oxygen: a Clean and 21
Abundant Source of Energy

Articles
The Case for a Federal Regulatory Strategy for Solar Power 25
Blake Carpenter, The University of Iowa
Organic Alternatives to Chemical Fertilizer 33
Alex Greenspan, The University of Colorado
Analysis of Cap-and-Trade 41
Matthew Tidwell, Johns Hopkins University
Informing Decisions: Greenhouse Gas Inventory at the 51
University of North Dakota
Anduin Kirkbride McElroy, Shawn O’Neil,
Santosh Rijal, Navin Thapa and Junyu Yang,
The University of North Dakota

Book Reviews
Rising Power, Sinking Planet: the New Geopolitics of Energy by 62
Michael Klare
James M. A. Hobbs, Colorado College
The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery 64
Paul Burger, Michigan State University
Preface
As a scientist, I have long known the value of scientific research and
technological innovation to the vitality of the United States. Now that
our country is increasingly competing in the global marketplace, these
issues are more important than ever to America’s future success. Un-
fortunately, many policymakers at all levels of government are not fully
aware of what is at stake if we ignore scientific research and education.

It is absolutely critical that the next generation of individuals who


make and influence public policy be well-versed in science, technology,
and innovation. I encourage students studying in these fields to take an
active role in policy as they continue their educations and emerge into
the workforce. Future policy makers must recognize the importance of
scientific research and encourage innovation if our nation is to remain
competitive.

Innovation has led America to success since the Industrial Revolu-


tion. Previous generations understood that our economy was built upon
investments in the development of new technologies, and in rapidly
moving those technologies from the lab to the marketplace. We face a
new challenge today as foreign countries have learned from us, and are
investing heavily in training and equipping scientists and engineers at a
rate which threatens to exceed America’s dominance in those areas. New
American investment is needed to keep up.

Building a highly skilled and motivated workforce in future genera-


tions, and developing superb research facilities, are the primary ways to
meet the coming challenges. In Congress, I helped facilitate that by pass-
ing the America COMPETES Act. It authorized spending for science, tech-
nology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs, which will
provide students the knowledge they need to pursue jobs in high-tech
fields in the United States. The COMPETES Act also authorizes funds to
expand research and education programs at the National Science Foun-
dation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the De-
partment of Energy. Also needed is a solid research and development
tax credit to encourage the private sector to conduct research and de-
velopment.

In addition to equipping our nation to compete in the global econ-


omy, investment in scientific research and education will help move our
country and the world away from reliance on fossil fuels. This is es-
sential if we hope to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, fed-
eral investment in basic research will lead to new technologies that will
make generating electricity cleaner and more efficient, and make cars
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go farther on a gallon of gasoline, or power them with no gasoline at
all. We are already making great strides in harnessing the sun to power
homes and businesses through the use of photovoltaic technology. This
technology is rapidly advancing, and photovoltaic sheets are currently
being affordably used in various ways to generate power. However, this
technology still has far to go before it will be widely used.

Perhaps the most direct and available way in which the environ-
mental impact of generating energy can be addressed is through nuclear
power. Right now, a convoluted regulatory system deters the establish-
ment of new nuclear power plants, making coal and natural gas more
practical – and environmentally detrimental – alternatives for utilities.
Moving away from coal as our primary source of energy may be our sin-
gle biggest challenge to environmental sustainability. However, I believe
that, with strong funding for basic research, our nation can lead the
world away from its reliance on fossil fuels and find sustainable means
to meet our energy needs.

Many young people realize the importance of these issues to the


vitality of our nation, and are studying these fields so that they are pre-
pared for highly skilled jobs. In order to encourage even more students
to study these subjects, policy changes are needed at all levels of gov-
ernment, especially state and local, to bolster these areas of education
in school systems and institutions of higher education. Unfortunately,
there are few scientists and engineers actively involved in the shaping of
policy, which is why I am constantly appealing to young people studying
these fields to become active in trying to shape public policy.

If I could dictate the agenda of Congress, I would make these is-


sues among the top priorities. The unfortunate reality is that there are
many, many competing interests, and most elected officials are simply
unaware of how profound the effect investments in scientific research
and education can have on America’s economic and social well-being. I
urge scientists and engineers, and people with an interest and under-
standing of these issues, to become involved in politics, whether it be at
the local, state or congressional level. Today’s students are the potential
innovators and political leaders needed to solve the energy challenges.

Far too few scientists and engineers are interested or involved in


public policy efforts. But it is essential to have scientific and techno-
logical components as part of our public policy. It will be impossible to
solve our planet’s extensive environmental and sustainability problems
without solid scientific research and workable technological solutions
developed by knowledgeable and dedicated scientists and engineers.
Please do your part by entering these fields of work and study!

-Honorable Representative Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI)


Letter from the Editor
“For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. ... We will
restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s won-
ders to raise healthcare’s quality and lower its cost. We will har-
ness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run
our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges
and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we
can do. All this we will do.”
– President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Catalyst: Journal of Energy and


Environmental Policy.

This is a time of great concern for the state of our planet, but
also one of great hope for the future. The exigencies of drastic climate
change and ecosystem collapse threaten dire social and political conse-
quences. At the Roosevelt Institution’s Catalyst Journal, we believe that
by working to build bridges between science and policy formulation,
this generation of students can contribute to the solutions that will
meet our present challenges.

Our tag line reads Sound science leads to sound policy. Between the
worlds of science and politics lies an informational barrier that frequent-
ly isolates policymaking from pertinent, cutting-edge research. The jour-
nal seeks to bridge the gap with policy ideas that reflect authoritative
technical analysis.

We trace the philosophy of this journal to 1642. The year 1642


saw the passing of Galileo and the birth of Isaac Newton. Before Gali-
leo, Copernicus’s heliocentric ideas were rejected by the masses; most
people believed the Earth to be the center of the universe. In 1610,
Galileo would take a leap into the scientific and political unknown. On
the 7th of January that year, he observed three moons orbiting Jupi-
ter through his homemade telescope and at that moment came to the
extraordinary conclusion that the Earth was not the axis of rota-
tion for all celestial bodies. Galileo would spend the following years
of his life flirting with political danger until 1632 when, under the
guise of a philosophical discussion, he published Dialogue Concern-
ing the Two Chief World Systems. The brilliance of Dialogue lies in its
presentation. In the text, two philosophers debate the merits
of the Copernican heliocentric and Ptolemaic geocentric systems while
a Venetian layman observes. The Copernican sways the layman, who,
in one of the final lines of the manuscript, says of the heliocentric argu-
ments, “I must confess that I have not heard anything more admirable
9
than this, nor can I believe that the human mind has ever penetrated
into subtler speculations.” After publishing this text, Galileo was placed
under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Newton, an exemplar of modern physical science, would learn much


from Galileo’s life work and political troubles. Newton once said in refer-
ence to Galileo, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have
stood on the shoulders of giants.” For years, Newton amassed in his per-
sonal notes brilliant insights in the areas of optics, analytic geometry,
mechanics, and gravitation. Newton would need coaxing to publish the
seminal work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, commonly
known as the Principia. The Principia is a deliberately dense text. As
Newton later explained, “To avoid being baited by little smatterers in
mathematics I designedly made the Principia abstract, but yet as to be
understood by able mathematicians.” Where Galileo aggressively pub-
licized his ideas, Newton had little interest in the opinions of the gen-
eral public. Catalyst has chosen Galileo’s path—scientific understanding
cannot be limited to the few.

In the aggregate, modern science appears as Newton’s did to many:


impenetrable. Understanding scientific writing frequently requires spe-
cialized knowledge in order to interpret and contextualize the informa-
tion in a useful way. This is particularly daunting to policymakers who
must remain current on dozens of complex topics simultaneously.

While students across the world have dedicated themselves to spe-


cialized scientific fields, a select group is both ready and able to link the
science they study with the pressing policy questions we face. With a
natural disposition for action, a critical stake in shaping the future, and
the ability to study and understand complex problems, these students
are ideal candidates to help bring science and policy closer together.
Catalyst looks to present their work to policymakers and to the general
public.

Inside this journal you will find three types of articles. We open
with a series of short articles called Summaries for Policymakers. In the
Summaries for Policymakers, our Editorial Board looks to make more
accessible the technologies and research areas most relevant to policy.
We shed light on the basic terms and ideas in scientific debate through a
format that highlights facts useful to policymakers. Our Summaries for
Policymakers discuss vertical farming, non-point carbon sequestration,
global climate models, and water-to-fuel technology.

This inaugural edition’s four full-length articles reflect the ability


of students, undergraduate and graduate alike, to engage in research
topics and investigate wide-ranging policy implications of their work.
It is our hope that policymakers will use this published research to add
new perspective to their legislative work. Matthew Tidwell from Johns
Hopkins University presents “Analysis of Cap and Trade,” where he chal-
lenges the effectiveness of a cap and trade scheme and concludes that a
carbon tax provides a better alternative. In “GHG Inventory and Emissions
Analysis at University of North Dakota,” a team of students from UND
describes how academic institutions can take stock of their own green-
house gas emissions. Alex Greenspan from the University of Colorado
discusses better agricultural fertilizer options in “ Organic Alternatives
to Chemical Fertilizer.” “The Case for a Federal Regulatory Strategy for
Solar Power” by Blake Carpenter from The University of Iowa develops
the idea of providing government support in order to improve the com-
petitiveness of solar power. These pieces share a common thread—all
reflect the need that policy ideas be supported by scientific results. We
conclude the journal with reviews of recently published books. These
reviews are an excellent resource for those who are interested in learn-
ing what different resources are available in the area of energy and en-
vironmental policy.

This generation of students must bring a fresh approach to the


policy questions faced at all levels of government. Through Catalyst,
we look to provide a peer-reviewed resource for creative thinkers, both
the policy-makers of today and the leaders of tomorrow. We aspire to
this goal from our vantage point on the shoulders of the world’s finest
research institutions.

We owe special thanks to Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI), for


his support of Catalyst. Congressman Ehlers is a leading advocate for
the protction of the Great Lakes and a proponent of the development of
alternative energy resources as well as improved energy efficiency.

The success of this journal reflects the incredible efforts of the au-
thors, the Catalyst Editorial Board, the leadership of the Roosevelt Insti-
tution, and the Faculty Advisory Board. To all, my most sincere thanks.

Adrian Haimovich
Editor-in-Chief
Summaries
for Policymakers
Global Climate Models
Abstract
Global climate models, or GCMs, have been used for several decades
and form the basis of many climate projections and assessments.
GCMs are used to predict long-term changes in the earth’s climate
though the calculation of physical interactions on a supercomputer.
Climate models are useful because they create laboratories where dif-
ferent conditions and changes can be simulated. However, they are
limited by computer processing speed and by the finite complexity of
the models, and as such all climate model results have a predictive
error associated with them. Because they are very complex and labor-
intensive, GCMs are usually the product of scores of scientists, and a
number of these models from around the world compete for greater
accuracy and detail.

Talking Points
•Climate models work by placing the earth’s land, ocean, and at-
mosphere on a three-dimensional grid and treating each grid box
as a point in a computer simulation. Models with more or fewer
grid points are said to have a higher or lower spatial resolution.
Higher-resolution models are necessary to reproduce smaller
weather patterns like thunderstorms; models with lower resolu-
tion cannot “feel” these phenomena.
•The physics of climate are represented in GCMs via different
climate variables. These variables are measurable quantities
(average temperature, precipitation, etc.) that vary at some point
on the earth at a given time. Sometimes the ways in which some
measurable quantities affect or give rise to others – for instance,
the conditions leading to cloud formation – are not well under-
stood or are prohibitively complex and must be approximated.
•Because of this inherent unpredictability, scientists run models
many times and look at the average results from the ensemble of
model runs. This technique is known as the Monte Carlo method.
If the results are consistently in favor of one outcome, then that
outcome is said to be predicted with a high degree of statistical
confidence.
•Another way that models are tested and verified is through the
use of hindcasting. This is like forecasting except that scientists
put past conditions into a model – for example, the state of the
global climate ten years ago – and then see whether or not the
model is able to accurately recreate and report past climate.
Practical Implications
•Global Climate Models (GCMs) provide climate projections for
the near and far future for different conditions, e.g. given differ-
ent concentrations of particular greenhouse gases in the atmo-
sphere.
•Evidence from GCMs is frequently used in forums such as the Unit-
ed Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
•Results from climate models have been used to argue that global
warming is anthropogenici.
•GCMs are limited by computer power and by scientific under-
standing of some climate phenomena.

Analysis
Climate models are able to give us a robust general picture of climate
over the next decades, even if they are unable to predict the future
with absolute certainty. The ability of these models to provide error
estimations and confidence levels is important to the incorporation
of climate model results into policymaking decisions.

Next Steps
Climate modeling research is currently funded by a number of gov-
ernment agencies, particularly NASA, NOAA, and NSF. All of these
agencies are involved not only in the creation of climate models
but also in the procurement of the observational data needed to
make climate science accurate and relevant. At the time of press,
funding for climate modeling has substantially increased via the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which promised
substantial spending increases at these agencies ($2.5B for NSF,
$836M for NOAA, and $400M for NASA)ii. Further funding for basic
research and data acquisition in this area will ultimately permit the
crafting of better-informed policies.

Sources available at http://rooseveltinstitution.org/catalyst2009

Notes
i
IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working
Group I to the Fourth Assessment. Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and
H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York,
NY, USA, 996 pp.
ii
American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, H.R. 1, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009).

15
Desirability of Non-Point CO2
Sequestration Mechanisms
Abstract
Many policymakers assume that the simplest mechanisms for carbon
capture and storage (CCS) will be point capture and on-site sequestra-
tion systems at fossil fuel power plants, especially “clean coal” power
plants (van der Zwaan 2005). However, as carbon emissions con-
tinue unabated, CCS systems that do not rely on capture at the point
of emissions (non-point systems) will become necessary. Once total
emissions reach levels that threaten disastrous climate change, a pro-
cess that may already be happening (Hansen et al. 2008), the only
recourse will be to capture carbon dioxide that is already in the atmo-
sphere (Zeman and Lackner 2004). Non-point systems are efficient
because they can be distributed near sites at which CO2 will be either
used or stored and are also desirable politically because they remove
the CCS infrastructure from the population centers that typically
contain power plants and other sources of carbon emissions.

Talking Points
•Non-point CCS systems will be able to “clean up” CO2 that is
already in the atmosphere, a feature that will be necessary to
reduce atmospheric CO2 to an acceptable level as carbon
emissions continue to increase in the coming years.
•Population centers and polluted low income areas are typical lo-
cations for power plants. These areas would benefit greatly from
local air pollution controls, but the installation of extensive CCS
systems would only exacerbatethe disproportionate impact of in-
dustrial development on disadvantaged communities.
•Non-point CCS systems can be placed away from population
centers. It would be advantageous for enhanced oil recovery to
install them on oil fields, and they could be distributed on
agricultural land with a business model similar to the one used
successfully for wind farms. Systems created exclusively for the
purpose of sequestering carbon could be placed anywhere.


Practical Implications
•Non-point CCS systems are able to capture previously emitted
CO2 (Lackner et al. 1999)
•Adding new carbon sequestration technology to pre-existing
power plants will be difficult and expensive due to a lack of
industry standardization and the difficulty of retrofitting older
plants (David and Herzog 2000; Lackner et al. 1999)
•Point capture is not economically feasible for diffuse,
low-intensity sources like gasoline automobiles, which are not
likely to be made obsolete soon (Lackner et al. 2001)
•Transportation to remote storage or consumption sites is a
considerable expense for traditional CCS systems (David and
Herzog 2000)
•Small non-point CCS systems can be developed for local CO2 appli-
cations such as agricultural enhancement (e.g., Keith et al 2006)
•CCS operations of arbitrary size can be assembled from small
non-point CCS components and can be easily expanded

Analysis
Non-point CCS systems require further development before
widespread deployment, but researchers have demonstrated
that such systems are technically feasible (Lackner et al. 2001).
Especially in light of mounting evidence that widely-touted
technologies like clean coal carbon capture systems and hydrogen
fuel cells will not be mature for quite some time, it makes sense to
invest heavily in a wide array of solutions to the problem of global
climate change. The share of the solution that will come from these
zero-emission technologies, which do nothing to address past emis-
sions, shrinks daily as carbon emissions continue. Given that all emerg-
ing technologies (including those advocated here) have uncertain
development timetables, it is important to provide funding for
negative-emissions technologies that can mitigate climate change
due to carbon emissions regardless of the source or time of
emission.

Next Steps
Congress should increase incentives for further research into
all promising methods of carbon capture and storage, including
traditional point-source sequestration and non-point sequestration.
Legislators must also help create a public-private research
partnership by increasing funding specifically for scientific research
into CCS as part of the effort under the Obama administration to bet-
ter fund basic scientific research.

Sources available at http://rooseveltinstitution.org/catalyst2009


17
Vertical Farming: Bringing the Country
to the Concrete

Abstract
With approximately 80% of our arable land already in use, water
shortages increasing in frequency and severity, rapid urbanization
straining regional production and climate change affecting weather,
conventional farming will not produce sufficient foodstuffs to feed
the world’s ever-growing population. Vertical farming, an idea de-
veloped by Dr. Dickson Despommier, professor of Public Health in
Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University, modernizes
conventional farming practices by building vertically oriented, highly
regulated, interior farms within cities. Research suggests that con-
ventional methods of farming will have to double by 2030 in order
to meet the rising global demand for food (as the global population
reaches 7.9 billion people by 2025, over 50% living in urban centers).
Vertical farming promises a more resource and economically effi-
cient alternative that can meet rising demand, especially in urban
centers. Vertical farms require significant start-up capital and deviate
from commercial practices, and therefore require legislative support.
Without such support, vertical farms are unlikely to develop within
the next decade, at which point, farming practices may already be
strained to a critical point.

Talking Points
•Vertical farming is a matter of implementing existing technolo-
gies in a conceptually new way, combining advanced green-
house technology with NASA-developed artificial environment
technology to build multi-storied greenhouses.
•Vertical farms require significantly more start-up capital, an
estimated $1 billion per building, than do conventional farms.
While this makes state assistance initially necessary, vertical
farms are estimated to gross $80 million in annual profit.
•Vertical farms provide food security in ways that conventional
farms cannot by reducing foreign dependency, lessening the oil-
food relationship, increasing local self-sufficiency, providing reg-
ulated low food prices, and providing more jobs per farm than
conventional farms.
•Vertical farms utilize NASA artificial environment technology that
has already been implemented aboard the International Space
Station.
•Vertical farms alleviate stress on farmland by allowing the land
to be naturally reclaimed by local ecosystems. This increases
biodiversity and potentially reduces the effects of local climate
change

Practical Implications
•Vertical farming provides a highly efficient environment for farm-
ing. By design, these farms make more efficient use of actual
land than conventional farms; a thirty-story vertical farm on a
one-acre plot is equivalent to thirty acres of farm land.
•Interior farming, especially the highly regulated (climate-con-
trolled) interior environments of proposed vertical farms, makes
use of minimal resource input
•Vertical farms are designed to be fertilizer-free
•Interior farms provide a regulated climate system, avoiding the
uncertainties of natural disasters and a changing climate
•Vertical farms located in cities provide local food production,
thereby reducing transportation costs, packaging costs and
resale costs
•Because of their regulated environments, vertical farms can
grow exotic foods locally, significantly reducing international
dependence and increasing local and national self-sufficiency
•Through their design as energy self-sufficient buildings, vertical
farms could potentially add excess energy back to the grid
•The vertical farm feeds, on average an estimated 50,000+ people

Legislative Context
•The “Food, Energy and Conservation Act of 2008” (Public Law
110–246; “Farm Bill”), has established a goal of modernizing
food production, increasing energy efficiency and increasing
conservation and ecosystem reclamation.
•The Bill appropriates $20 billion annually, from 2008 to
2012
•The Bill was implemented to maintain several programs, for
which Vertical Farming funding would be applicable
•Farmland Protection Program, Conservation Stewardship
Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program
•The $200+ billion allocated to this bill could provide enough
developmental assistance to feed 20 million people with food
from vertical farms
•Based on the production cost estimates for a vertical farm
in New York City, (developed by Despommier at Columbia
University)

19
Analysis
Growing exotic plants locally is not a new idea; greenhouses have
been used for this purpose for centuries. Vertical farming takes that
process one step further, combining multiple cutting edge technolo-
gies and enabling cities to grow any crop, year round, close to their
growing urban populations. The benefits of modernizing conven-
tional farming practices and building farms closer to where popula-
tions are growing are evident, and this innovative alternative should
be considered.

The actual effectiveness of vertical farms has yet to be seen on a


large scale. These farms would require significant start up capital
and, if implemented on a large scale, could disrupt current world
food production and distribution systems. These risks may make
the technology unappealing for food producers. However, there is
growing commercial interest in the technology and this interest could
be encouraged with a Federally funded incentive and developmental
assistance program.

Next Steps
To actualize vertical farming on a national, or global scale, a test
model must be built. New York City, home to Columbia University
and birthplace of the vertical farming project, would be an optimal
choice to test a vertical farm. New York City has a large population, is
significantly urban and relies heavily on agricultural produce import-
ed into the city, then distributed. The city is ranked fourth among
the world’s most expensive cities by UBS, Mercer and EIU surveys,
giving a realistic ceiling for what production costs would be. New
York City would provide a rigorous test of practicality and logistical
feasibility before national or global development. If a vertical farm
could succeed in New York City, it is likely to be adaptable to most
other American cities, as well as other major cities globally.

Sources available at http://rooseveltinstitution.org/catalyst2009


Splitting Water into Hydrogen and
Oxygen: a Clean and Abundant Source of
Energy
Abstract
The implementation of solar energy on a large scale is hindered by
the limitations of current technology, which allows for the use of solar
energy only when there is sunlight. A new process for using solar en-
ergy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen is being devel-
oped by researchers at the Nocera Lab at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology. This new process uses inexpensive, easy-to-produce
catalyst allows for the use of sunlight to split water into oxygen and
hydrogen, which may be used to generate power in a fuel cell, making
it economical to use solar energy even when the sun is not shining.
Plans are in place for the new technology, which currently has gov-
ernment, industrial, and philanthropic funding, to be deployed within
ten years.

Talking Points
•Current methods of harnessing solar energy have been “daytime-
only,” because storing solar power for later use has been prohibi-
tively expensive.
•Existing oxidation catalysts and reactions are expensive and inef-
ficient. The inexpensive, easy-to-produce catalyst allows for the
use of sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, which
may be used to generate power in a fuel cell
•The new catalyst produces oxygen and hydrogen gas from room-
temperature, neutral pH water, making it both inexpensive and
non-toxic.
•Can be used to generate clean, carbon-free energy on “a massive
scale.”

Legislative Context
•The Nocera lab, which developed the new catalyst, has govern-
ment funding from the National Science Foundation as well as
industrial and philanthropic support.
•Research on the implementation of the new technology must be
well-funded so that it can be successfully integrated with existing
photovoltaic systems.

21
Analysis
In short, the Nocera group claims that they have developed a cata-
lyst that can oxidize water at much higher efficiencies than exist-
ing technologies. Oxidation of water is what plants do in photosyn-
thesis, but unlike current methods, requiring toxic catalysts, plants
can split water under normal atmospheric conditions in neutral pH
water. The Nocera catalyst is the first to successfully replicate this
nontoxic, highly efficient, natural process. Furthermore, the new
process uses electrodes made of Cobalt and Phosphorus instead of
Platinum, which means that it is both cheaper and more environmen-
tally friendly than existing processes.

In spite of this promising progress, information about the Nocera


group’s catalyst is not complete. The group’s paper on their discov-
ery provides very little data on the form of the catalyst and on the
mechanism by which water is split. No schematic of the cell setup
is provided, nor is there sufficient information about the electro-
chemical character of the cell. Nonetheless, the discovery is promis-
ing; if coupled with a power-generating system like a fuel cell and
mass-produced, the new catalyst would provide for clean, renewable,
carbon-free energy.

Next Steps
Before the discovery can be implemented as a viable source of re-
newable energy, it must be coupled with a device that can generate
power, like a fuel cell. Recombining hydrogen and oxygen currently
requires platinum electrodes. There is a need to develop inexpensive,
environmentally friendly catalysts to expedite fuel cell reactions.
Without funding for projects seeking to develop these new catalysts,
the Nocera group’s development cannot see widespread use. In the
short term, it is therefore necessary to fund both fuel cell research
and projects seeking to improve upon or mass-produce the Nocera
catalyst.

Any long-term renewable energy policy must make use of a phased


release of new technology. The first step is to establish a committee
to determine the optimal method of carrying out widespread imple-
mentation of not only the Nocera catalyst but also hydrogen fuel
cells, which, in spite of their efficiency and practicality, are usually
used only for supplemental power. It would then be necessary to
install the infrastructure necessary for nationwide use of hydrogen
fuel cells. This would require the construction of oxidation plants
and the popularization of photovoltaic technology.

Sources available at http://rooseveltinstitution.org/catalyst2009


Articles
The Case for a Federal Regulatory
Strategy for Solar Power
Blake Carpenter, The University of Iowa

During the peak-driving season in 2008, gas prices set new record
highsi and a shocked American public began paying closer attention
to the impact of energy consumption not only on the environment,
but also on household budgets. In fact, by summer 2008, some ana-
lysts were arguing that energy and environmental policy were more
important during the 2008 Presidential Race than they had been in
any election for a generation. Both McCain and Obama agreed on
the basic science of climate change and that combating it ought to
be a top priority for government action, allowing the debate to focus
on the specific measures that should to be taken to address global
warming.ii All that changed, however, when financial institutions be-
gan to flounder and fail, home values and stock markets took a dive,
and oil prices fell, breathing new life into fossil fuels.
Hope for a more sustainable energy policy is not lost, but if any
regulatory support for alternative energy is to be provided, it must
be in line with the new economic reality. Even before being sworn in,
President Obama began outlining policy to address both the finan-
cial and ecological crises. Obama proposed an economic recovery
package that would, in part, also address climate change by creating
“green-collar jobs.” Obama’s plan is designed to create or save some
5 million jobs by investing in alternative energy production, encour-
aging efficiency, and updating the antiquated electric grid.iii In order
to most effectively promote sound energy policy during these trou-
bled economic times, President Obama’s efforts in renewable energy
must focus monetary support where it will be most effective, retool
existing subsidies so that they can be useful during the economic
recession, and explore ways to achieve positive results without gov-
ernment subvention.

Solar and America’s Energy Mix


This article contends that government money will be used most
effectively by targeting solar power. The U.S. Energy Information
Administration (EIA), the statistical agency within the Department of
Energy, estimates that in 2007 only 7% of America’s energy demand
was satisfied through renewable sources. Solar power makes up just
1% of this figure, meaning only .07% of U.S. energy needs were met
by solar power.iv
Despite having such a slow start, solar is going to grow
25
quickly. The Climate Change Special Initiative at the consulting firm
McKinsey & Company recently released a study on the economic
feasibility of solar power to compete with fossil fuels. McKinsey’s
researchers examined price trends for non-renewable fuel sources,
the rapid growth of installed solar power capacity, and the pace of
technological innovation. The McKinsey paper predicts that by 2020
in ten regions around the world, the price of solar energy will compete
with traditional fuels without the need for government subsidies.v
The intersection of these conditions—the disparity between
solar power and other forms of renewable energy and the incredible
potential for growth—makes solar a very attractive target for federal
subvention. Unlike hydroelectric power, which has been dominant
for years, or biomass, which has already received millions of dollars
of support, solar power is a relative infant. Although solar power
has, to date, captured a relatively small share of the U.S. demand
for renewable energy, recent technological improvements should de-
crease costs significantly and stimulate the installation of additional
capacity.

Modern Solar Power Technology


Currently, there are two classifications of solar power generation
systems: photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal (CST).
PV power is produced when solar panels convert sunlight direct-
ly into electrical energy. CST, on the other hand, uses mirrors or
parabolic collectors, called heliostats, to focus solar radiation on a
liquid heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is used to produce steam
that drives a turbine and generates electricity. Recent technological
developments are likely to make the price of both types of solar
power more competitive with fossil fuels.
Photovoltaic power has long faced a trade-off between efficiency
and cost that has limited its commercial value. First generation solar
cells were composed of wafers of silicon that absorbed sunlight and
produced electricity with substantial energy losses. In July 2007,
a University of Delaware research team broke the record for solar
cell efficiency by converting 42.8% of sunlight energy into electric-
ity.vi However, nearly 90% of installed solar capacity is only half as
efficient as the University’s record-breaking designv. Thin-film PV
technology is more commercially viable, but it currently only achieves
approximately 10% electrical conversionv. Thin-film was designed to
lower the cost of solar power. Thicker, more efficient solar cells
are more expensive to fabricate than thin-film, since they require a
larger volume of expensive photovoltaic materials. The reduced
weight of thin-film PV also produces a smaller carbon footprint and
savings in transportation costs.
Whether a PV project calls for lower cost or higher effi-
ciency, recent scientific advances may improve both designs.
Researchers at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York used
nanotechnology to develop a coating for PV cells that could reduce
the amount of light that bounces off solar cells from about a third of
the sun’s available energy to just 4%.vii If this coating can be commer-
cially applied to existing designs, it would dramatically increase the
electrical output that either type of solar cell could generate from
the same amount of sunlight.
Recent improvements to CST technology also convey decisive
benefits over other forms of renewable power. Many renewable
power generation designs have no efficient mechanism to store
energy. For example, wind turbines generate electricity when the
wind blows, which may or may not occur when the power is needed.
On the other hand, modern CST plants have begun using molten
salts that can store heat very efficiently. Using the salts as heat
exchangers improves the dispatchability of the plant by permitting it to
generate electricity when it is needed. Better dispatchability allows
CST to be used for base load in addition to peak load power,viii and
has a number of other positive consequences that improve CTS’s
commercial viability. First, CST power plants that utilize molten salt
heat exchange systems are able to achieve a 65% annual capacity
rating; whereas, solar energy plants without storage systems are lim-
ited to 25% annual capacity.ix Second, engineers are able to design
heliostat fields and molten salt storage tanks that are large enough
to permit power generation for up to 13 hours after the sun has
stopped shining. In other words, power can be generated through a
rainstorm or all night, until the sun rises the next morning, and con-
sumers of CST power will not experience blackouts during periods
of heavy cloud cover. CST plants that use molten salts are able to
capture a higher annual percentage of solar energy and produce
power more reliably. Reliability reduces financial risk, adding to
the factors which have positioned CST to grow rapidly as a power
source.

Promoting Economies of Scale


Federal subvention of solar power would amplify the effective-
ness of new technologies by allowing economies of scale, the cost
advantages that a business obtains due to expansion, to be achieved
for both PV and CST solar plants. As more solar operations become
economically feasible due to increased federal support, the incre-
mental cost of installing new capacity falls, further encouraging
additional solar projects. Federal subvention makes it more econom-
ical for solar power operators to scale-up their operation. Subsidies
make it cheaper to buy land to increase the size of a PV or heliostat
field, more cost effective to include optional efficiency-boosting
27
systems, and more feasible for investment in higher capacity plants.
All of the advantages gained by subsidies generate additional power,
higher returns for solar power plant operators, and more green jobs.
A recent report on the economics of solar power calculates that in
the past twenty years, the cost of manufacturing PV cells has been
cut by approximately 20% with each doubling of solar cell installed
capacity, the approximate generating capability of a project or unit.
Similar economies of scale are possible with CST technology, due to
reduced costs of producing heliostats. Several studies identify the
heliostat unit price as the most important cost driver for CST elec-
tricity because building the heliostate field typically makes up 40 to
50% of the total cost of the power plant.ix x A comprehensive study
of CST technology estimates that heliostat unit costs will decline by
3% with each doubling of production capacityx, the volume of the
products that can be produced using current resources. An-
other study calculated that an increase in annual demand for he-
liostats from 5,000 to 50,000 would reduce the cost of each unit by
approximately 23%.x In addition to focusing support where it will
be most effective, government policy must address and work to re-
verse the deleterious effects that the economic downturn has had on
pre-existing federal support for renewable energy.

Energy Subsidies and the Recession


Most operators of renewable power plants are eligible for some form
of financial support. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act
of 2008, signed into law by President Bush last October 3, includ-
ed a provision that extended and expanded various tax credits for
alternative energy. The production tax credit subsidizes wind,
geothermal, hydropower, biomass and other technologies; whereas,
solar operations are eligible to receive the solar investment tax
credit.xii
Regrettably, these tax credits were not designed to operate
effectively during a recession. A business tax credit can only be used
to offset a tax liability arising from a profitable year. Therefore, in
a year when the producer of renewable power makes no money, the
credit cannot be claimed. Most renewable energy enterprises are
capital intensive and unprofitable up front, but gradually begin
to make money after a few years of operation. To reap the ben-
efits of the tax credits in years when the business is unprofitable
and therefore not paying taxes, owners of renewable power plants
have been collaborating with large “tax equity partners.” One busi-
ness structure used to facilitate this partnership has been dubbed
“the Minnesota Flip.” Under this business model, equity partners
provide a large portion of upfront capital and own a controlling
interest in the plant for the initial ten years. Ownership permits
these larger companies with tax liabilities to claim renewable energy
tax credits and other tax benefits while they are available. After 10
years the tax credits expire, and ownership flips back to the plant
operator by means of a pre-negotiated sale.xiii Business models like the
Minnesota Flip allow plant operators to effectively sell the renewable
energy tax credits to companies with large enough profits to make
use of them.
The recent financial slowdown has created a two-fold
problem for this system. According to Marty Pasqualini, managing
director of a firm that helps connect plant operators and tax equity
partners, “there were never more than 18 or 19 tax equity investors,
historically.” Nonetheless, Pasqualini adds, “they had enough
budget allocation for investment that they had an ability to
meet what was, year on year, a tremendously growing sector.”xiv
Unfortunately, the recession has hit many of the tax equity partners ex-
tremely hard. Among the original pool of investors are Lehman Brothers,
Wachovia, and AIG, all now defunct. Two other major investors, GE
Energy Financial Services and Morgan Stanley, halted new commit-
ments in anticipation of poor earningsxiv. Thus, the recession has cre-
ated dual problems. First, tax equity partners are less likely to have high
taxes, giving them little use for the renewable energy tax credits they
already receive. Second, they may also lack the cash necessary to
invest in new installations, limiting the ability of tax credits to spur
new growth in alternative energy.
Several solutions to this issue have been proposed.
American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode and Solar Energy
Industries Association President and CEO Rhone Resch have argued
that the tax credits should be made refundable, allowing them to
reduce tax liability below zero, essentially meaning the Treasury
would cut a check to the renewable power plant in years of no profit.
Bode argues, “we can continue to grow through this difficult period
only if the new Administration and the 111th Congress act immedi-
ately to make renewable tax incentives refundable so they can work
as they are intended to — even in the current financial context.”xv
Another answer could come from decoupling federal sub-
sidies and the profitability of a renewable energy business. The
Spanish government uses a price support, subsidizing renewable
energy producers when power is sold instead of when a profit is
made. The Spanish model features a carefully structured feed-in-
tariff, which allows power from renewable sources to be sold at
above-market prices. The subsidy is designed to be exceptionally gen-
erous at first to hyper-stimulate the commercialization of solar power.
After a few years, the subsidy is reduced. In 2007, the Spanish
Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Trade approved Royal Decree
(RD) 661/2007, updating a feed-in-tariff for renewable energy that
is sold to the electric grid. It appears that the Spanish model is
29
having the desired effect. Presently there are more than twenty
Spanish solar utility plants either in operation, under construction,
or in initial project stages. These projects are being financed and
managed by no fewer than five major companies and, in theory,
are expected to produce over a gigawatt of renewable power each
year.xvi The growth of the Spanish solar sector highlights the benefits of
using price supports, and the Spanish industry could provide a model
for U.S. lawmakers who are concerned about increasing the effective-
ness of support for alternative energy during times of economic trouble.

Non-Monetary Support for Solar Power


In addition to subsidies, there are concrete ways in which a
coordinated federal strategy can promote a favorable environment
for solar power. One widely circulated idea involves expanding the
network of power transmission lines to connect utility customers to
regions with high potential for renewable power production (such
as the solar-rich land in the desert southwest). Regulation of PV
power provides another opportunity for positive intervention with-
out subsidization. PV is a complicated technology to regulate; un-
like CST power, PV is cost effective on a much smaller scale. While
some utility-scale applications of PV are being explored, there
exists an amazing potential for distributed generation of PV power.
Distributed generation sets PV solar apart from many alternative
energy technologies because it allows the end user to produce
power independent of an electric utility. One caveat, however, is
that distributing power generation creates difficulties that should be
addressed through federal regulation.
Trying to connect distributed power to the grid is the biggest
hurdle. One method for overcoming this challenge is called net
metering. Net metering requires utilities to modify their elec-
tric meters to monitor both incoming and outgoing power and to
buy renewable power flowing into the grid from privately owned
generators. For example, say a small business outfits the roof of its
building with solar panels. During the week, the business may use
all of the power provided by the solar paneling and need to purchase
additional energy from the electric utility. On the weekend when the
business closes, however, the solar panels continue operating, even
though the company uses minimal power. Net metering obligates
the local electric utility to purchase this excess power and reduce the
business’ electric bill by the appropriate amount. According to the
U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires
all public electric companies to offer net metering within three years
of receiving a request.xvii The result is that net metering is avail-
able in 44 states plus the District of Colombia, under a variety of
different circumstances.xviii While this approach has worked to some
extent, uniform federal regulation could decrease uncertainty about
the availability and extent of net metering and further encourage
PV solar power. Expanding the network of power transmission
lines and standardizing net metering conditions through federal
regulation are just two examples of how the Obama Administration
can promote the development of a sustainable power supply without
using subsidies.

Conclusion
Since the beginning of the economic slowdown, support for a change
to U.S. energy policy has begun to wane. It is important that the
new Administration attack the issue of renewable energy from mul-
tiple angles that would be most effective in the dampened economic
climate. Any new federal subsidies should target technologies, such
as solar, that are likely to yield the most results for taxpayer money.
Existing subsidies need to be altered to remain effective during the
recession. Finally, the government should consider other regulation
to address issues that may be hindering the growth of the alternative
energy sector.
Whatever the combination of federal regulatory support, clearly,
environmental gains are possible. Favorable regulation can drasti-
cally alter the price and competitiveness of solar-generated electrici-
ty in ways that have positive environmental impacts. A report by the
SolarPACES project of the International Energy Agency estimates
that by 2025, worldwide installed solar capacity will reach nearly
37 GW of power, satisfy 5% of global energy demand, and offset 362
million metric tons of CO2 emissions yearly.xix If those estimates
hold true, government regulation, accelerating the competitiveness
of solar power by just a few years, will offset hundreds of millions
more metric tons of greenhouse gases. Even though the troubled
economy now threatens to distract attention from the environ-
ment, the right balance of targeted federal support, improvement of
existing subvention, and non-monetary assistance will permit the
new government to have a dramatic impact on climate change.

References
i
Isidore C. Ike’s aftermath: The return of $4 gas. CNN [Internet]. 2008 Sept 14 [cited 2008
Nov 4]; [about 6 screens]. Available from: http://money.cnn.com/
2008/09/13/news/economy/ike_effect/index.htm
ii
Resources Magazine. Energy, Environment, and Elections: Mapping Voter Behavior in
2008. A Conversation with Jon Krosnik. Resources for the Future [Internet]. 2008. Sum-
mer. [cited 2009 Jan 17]; 169: [about 7 screens]. Available from: http://www.rff.org/Pub-
lications/Resources/Pages/EnergyEnvironmentandElections.aspx
iii
Dickerson, M. Why Obama’s green jobs plan might work. LA Times [Internet]. 2009 Jan 4
[cited 2009 Jan 17]; [about 7 screens]. Available from: http://www.latimes.com/business/
la-fi-greenjobs4-2009jan04,0,2453747,full.story
iv
The U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration. How much renew-

31
able energy do we use? Energy in Brief Series. 2008 Aug 21. [cited 2008 10 Nov]; [about 4
screens]. Available from: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energy_in_brief/
renewable_energy.cfm
v
McKinsey & Company. The economics of solar power. McKinsey Quar. Lorenz P, Pinner
D, and Seitz T. 2008 Jun. [cited 2008 Sept 1]. Available from: http://www.mckinsey.com/
clientservice/ccsi
vi
UD-led team sets solar cell record, joins DuPont on $100 million project. UDaily [Inter-
net]. 2007 Jul 23 [cited 2008 Nov 12]; [about 5 screens]. Available from: http://www.udel.
edu/PR/UDaily/2008/jul/solar072307.html
vii
Patel-Predd P. Making silicon less reflective. Technology Review [Internet]. 2008 Nov
11 [cited 2008 Nov 12]; [about 5 screens]. Available from http://www.technologyreview.
com/ energy/21655/?a=f
viii
SolarPACES. Spain pioneers grid-connected solar-tower thermal power. Mancini T and
Geyer M. [cited 2008 Nov 10]. Available from: http://www.iea.org/impagr/cip/pdf/ is-
sue36solarp.pdf.
ix
SolarPACES. Technology characterization solar power towers. [cited 2008 Nov 7]. Avail-
able from: http://www.solarpaces.org/CSP_Technology/ csp_technology.htm
x
Sandia National Laboratories (US). Heliostat cost reduction study. Sandia Report series.
Albuquerque (NM): Sandia National Laboratories (US); 2007 Jun. SAND2007-3293. Avail-
able from: U.S. Department of Commerce National Technical Information Service, Spring-
field, VA 22161. Available from: www.prod.sandia.gov/cgi-bin/techlib/access-control.
pl/2007/073293.pdf
xi
Sargent & Lundy, LLC. Assessment of concentrating solar power technology cost and
performance forecasts. Charles RP, Davis KW, and Smith JL. In: Electric Power 2005; 2005
Apr 5-7; Chicago, IL. [cited 2008 Nov 5]. Available from http://www.sargentlundy.com/
news-publications/publications-2005.html
xii
Union of Concerned Scientists [Internet]. Cambridge (MA): The Union; c2008. Produc-
tion Tax Credit for Renewable Energy; 2008 Nov 14 [cited 2009 Jan 18]; [about 3 screens].
Available from: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/solutions/big_picture_solutions/
production-tax-credit-for.html
xiii
Great Plains Windustry Project [Internet]. Minneapolis (MN): Windustry; c2007. Commu-
nity Wind Toolbox Chapter 12: The Minnesota Flip Business Model. 2007 [cited 2009 Jan
16]; [about 15 screens]. Available from: http://www.windustry.org/your-wind-project/
community-wind/community-wind-toolbox/chapter-12-the-minnesota-flip-business-
model
xiv
Mandel, J. Hit hard by financial crisis, industry seeks help again from Congress.
Greenwire [Internet]. 2008 Nov 13 [cited 2009 Jan 16]; [about 4 screens]. Available from:
http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=MzIzOTQ
xv
Jesmer, G. AWEA and SEIA Call for Refundable Renewable Energy Tax Credits. Renew-
ableEnergyWorld.com [Internet]. 2009 Jan 15 [cited 2009 Jan 18]; [about 9 screens]. Avail-
able from: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/ story?id=54497&src=rss
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xvii
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apps1.eere.energy.gov/states/alternatives/net_metering.cfm
xviii
North Carolina Solar Center. United States. Net metering [map of availability on Inter-
net]. Raleigh (NC): North Carolina Solar Center. 2008 Nov. [cited 2008 Nov 13]; [1 slide].
Available from: http://dsireusa.org/library/includes/
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Geyer M. [cited 2008 Nov 10]. Available from: http://www.iea.org/impagr/cip/pdf/ is-
sue36solarp.pdf.
Organic Alternatives to
Chemical Fertilizer
Alex Greenspan, The University of Colorado

Abstract
The production and distribution of chemical nitrogen for use as agri-
cultural fertilizer comprises between 1-2 percent of global fossil fuel
consumption. Though this direct contribution to energy use seems
minimal, it is unnecessary and unsustainable. On average, Ameri-
can farmers apply 24-32 percent more chemical nitrogen than is
needed for optimal crop yields, thereby wasting 30-40 percent of all
chemical nitrogen consumed. Excess nitrogen leaches into ground wa-
ter causing further environmental damage.
With fertilizer prices increasing, farmers are already looking for
alternatives to chemical nitrogen. The USDA offers agricultural price
support primarily through commodity loans to farmers: these should
be provided conditionally, crediting organic soil nitrogen from ma-
nure and nitrogen fixing cover crops. The mechanisms of crediting
organically fixed nitrogen must be tailored to individual regions;
farmers in warmer climates should receive credit for soil nitrogen
fixed from “green manure” legumes planted during the winter,
whereas farmers in colder climates will benefit from subsidies to
inoculate seeds with nitrogen fixing rhizobacteria. The USDA can
ncentivize these practices through both existing and novel pol-
icy mechanisms. These policies will not only reduce fossil fuel
consumption and protect the environment, but help to stabilize crop
prices.

The term fertilizer refers to nutrients applied to soil to aid crop


growth. The three most significant nutrients for agricultural crop
yields are phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen. Soil nitrogen
is the limiting factor of crop growth in most modern agricultural
systems.i American farmers consumed almost 15 million metric tons
of nitrogen fertilizer, nearly three times as much as other primary
agricultural nutrients.ii Global crop yields increased drasti-
cally throughout the 20th century following the advent of the
Haber-Bosch process of fixing inert atmospheric nitrogen gas into
the reduced forms that plants can utilize (ammonia and urea).
However, this process of manufacturing chemical sources of
nitrogen nutrients is extremely energy intensive, and chemical
fertilizers are highly susceptible to groundwater leaching.
Fortunately, organic alternatives to chemical fertilizer can almost
33
entirely offset agriculture’s synthetic nitrogen requirements.
Given the environmental impacts of chemical nitrogen fertilizer
and its steadily rising price, it is important to seek viable alternatives.
Effective and widespread use of organic fertilizers can substantially
reduce chemical fertilizer use without detrimentally effecting crop
yields, and can even serve to stabilize global crop prices. This paper
discusses the environmental impacts of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer,
organic alternatives to chemical fertilizer, and policy options for re-
ducing chemical fertilizer use and incentivizing its alternatives.

Environmental Impacts of Chemical Fertilizer Nitrogen


Watershed Contamination
Nitrogen fertilizer application constitutes the single greatest
source of groundwater contamination in the United States.iii Because
nitrogen is generally the limiting factor in crop growth, farmers
apply nitrogen in excess to ensure maximum yields. Nitrogen
leaching refers to the runoff of excess nitrogen into ground and
surface water. Leaching occurs when precipitation exceeds
evapotranspiration in an agricultural system, meaning that the in-
put of water into system exceeds the amount of water that the crop
uses.ii The rate of evapotranspiration relative to precipitation and
the amount of nitrogen farmers apply to the soil vary throughout the
growing season; nitrogen leaching varies accordingly. Leaching tends
to be higher early in the season because farmers apply significantly
larger quantities of nitrogen than crops need in order to ensure safe
early growth. Because plants are less developed earlier in the season,
evapotranspiration is relatively low. Later in the cropping season,
leaching tends to decrease because maximum fertilization becomes
less important and evapotranspiration rates increase as the crops
grow.ii
Nitrogen leaching has two major imminent environmental con-
sequences. The most obvious is nitrate contamination of ground-
water, which is dangerous for humans and other organisms. More
significantly, nitrogen leaching in surface water also causes
eutrophication, an increase in nutrients within an ecosystem that fu-
els rapid algal growth in surface waters. The algae quickly die and
decompose, exhausting oxygen in the ecosystem, which in turn kills
other organisms in a phenomenon known as hypoxiaiii. The largest
incidence of hypoxia occurs in the Gulf of Mexico each summer.
Nitrogen runoff from farms in the Mississippi River Basin flows into
the gulf creating a stretch of ocean thousands of kilometers wide,
popularly referred to as a “dead zone,” in which little marine life can
survive.iii
Though organic alternative nitrogen sources combined with
improved agricultural practices can reduce nitrogen leaching, the
dire situation posed by the Gulf of Mexico dead zone requires unique
solutions. Booth and Campbell recommend expansion of federal
conservation programs by 2.71 million hectares in the areas of the
basin with the highest rates of nitrate runoff. Such a policy would
require both setting aside land and subsidizing farmers to build
environmental buffers to decrease watershed contamination by ni-
trate leaching.iii Campbell and Booth predict that such measures could
reduce the dead zone by as much as 60 percent.
Energy Consumption
Production and distribution of nitrogen fertilizer causes 1-2
percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.ii Gaseous atmospheric
nitrogen is fixed into solid ammonia, or urea, through an industrial
procedure known as the Haber-Bosch process. Fixing one kilogram of
ammonia, the most common form of nitrogen fertilizer, requires 55
megajoules of energy.ii *
Additionally, the Haber-Bosch process relies directly on fossil
fuel consumption. In the process, atmospheric nitrogen gas reacts
with hydrogen gas to form solid ammonia. Hydrogen gas must be
evolved from natural gas (methane) by reacting methane with steam.
In addition to hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide is produced and then
released into the atmosphere. Approximately 80 percent of the
energy used globally in the Haber-Bosch process derives from
natural gas, and most of the remainder comes from coal.ii Sixty per-
cent of the natural gas consumed goes towards the hydrogen gas
feedstock, while 37 percent of the energy generated by natural gas or
coal consumption contributes to the 1200 °C temperatures and 100
to 300 atmosphere pressures required by the Haber-Bosch process.
Due to the specific energy and feedstock requirements of the
Haber-Bosch process, currently viable renewable energy sourc-
es, such as wind, could not effectively replace fossil fuels for the
production of nitrogen fertilizer. The most likely alternative to using
natural gas to generate hydrogen would be water electrolysis, which
releases oxygen gas instead of carbon dioxide. However, water elec-
trolysis requires more energy than methane reformation; currently,
most of that energy comes from coal. Therefore, water electrolysis is
not, currently, cleaner or more cost efficient. Furthermore, because
the fossil fuels burned in the Haber-Bosch process contribute direct-
ly to the required heating, alternative sources of energy will not be
as efficient as simply burning fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources
could be developed to operate the Haber-Bosch process in the future;
however, the high price of chemical fertilizer and the existence of
viable alternatives make the latter seem a more prudent policy op-
tion.

35
Alternatives to Chemical Nitrogen Fertilizer
Manure
Animal waste constitutes the most readily abundant alternative
source of soil nitrogen. Manure contains most primary and second-
ary nutrients needed for plant growth, including high concentrations
of nitrogen and phosphorous. In 1997, confined livestock operations
produced manure containing 1.12 million metric tons of recoverable
nitrogen.v The farms that produced this waste collectively controlled
29.6 million hectares of cropland. The 1997 census of agriculture
estimated that, at maximum, these same farms could feasibly utilize
only 40 percent of the nitrogen they produced.
Widespread redistribution of animal waste could significantly
impact American chemical fertilizer nitrogen consumption. Howev-
er, several factors limit the effectiveness of any such policy.vi Though
animal waste contains both reduced nitrogen and phosphorous,
these nutrients can often take several years to mineralize into a form
useful for agriculture. Distribution policies recently implemented
may therefore require several years to significantly impact fertiliz-
er use. Furthermore, rates of nutrient mineralization vary depend-
ing on storage methods, climate, and manure source, complicating
the estimation of recoverable nitrogen in the manure. This assess-
ment is important given that overuse of manure nitrogen is subject
to the same problems of leaching and denitrification as chemical
fertilizer.
Nevertheless, manure fertilizer offers benefits over chemical
fertilizer. Manure can act to improve soil quality, decreasing erosion
and increasing water retention, thereby reducing nutrient leaching.
Furthermore, in addition to supplementing soil nitrogen, manure
contains other primary plant nutrients, phosphorous and potassium,
and secondary nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfur,
and macromolecular organic material.

Nitrogen Fixing Cover Crops


Certain species of legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen gas into a
form available to both the legume crop and to another crop planted
later. If managed effectively, nitrogen fixing cover crops can fully
supply another crop’s nitrogen needs. Symbiotic microorganisms
known as rhizobacteria grow in the roots of nitrogen fixing legumes,
forming root nodules.vii These rhizobacteria fix atmospheric
nitrogen gas into soluble ammonia.vii During the plant’s life, most of
the ammonia produced goes towards the plant’s own growth; when
the plant dies, excess ammonia is released into the soil in a reduced
form. In annual legumes, nitrogen reserves are generally in greatest
excess just before the plant flowers, so tilling the crop shortly before
flowering ensures the greatest soil nitrogen gain.
Cover crops are environmentally favorable in many ways.
Biological nitrogen fixation does not require fossil fuel consump-
tion because the sole energy input is photosynthesis in the host
plant. Growing cover crops further mitigates CO2 emissions through
carbon sequestration in plant tissue. Though cover crops are still
susceptible to nitrogen leaching, they result in significantly less soil
nitrogen loss than chemical fertilizer (10-15 percent loss instead of
30-40 percent), increase soil quality, reduce erosion and runoff, and
thereby further reduce leaching over time.ii Furthermore, using cover
crops has been shown to reduce a farm’s total energy consumption
by up to 20 percent.ii
Given the rising cost of chemical fertilizer, nitrogen fixing cov-
er crops also offer significant economic benefits. In 2006, nitrogen
fertilizer prices in the United States had risen to 521 USD per ton.
viii
That same year, farmers applied an average of 138 pounds of
nitrogen per acre grown of corn, the most commonly grown crop in
the United States and the most fertilizer intensive.ix Therefore, farm-
ers spent an average of 36 USD on fertilizer per acre of corn. The
nitrogen production of common nitrogen fixing cover crops is be-
tween 72 and 158 pounds of nitrogen per acre, between 32 and 51
USD.vi These cover crops include hairy vetch, which produces be-
tween 90 and 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre for 35 to 65 USD
per acre, and berseem clover, which produces 75 to 220 pounds of
nitrogen per acre for 22 to 39 USD per acre. Cover cropping is clearly
an economically viable alternative to commercial nitrogen fertiliza-
tion, particularly given that the cost of chemical fertilizer will likely
continue to rise as the demand for natural gas rises, whereas the
prices of seeds and agricultural labor remain relatively inelastic to
market trends.

Microbial inoculation of agricultural crops


Though few plants have naturally evolved nitrogen fixation, strains
of rhizobacteria have been developed to fix nitrogen for non-
leguminous crops and are referred to as biofertilizer. One such
commercially available strain of biofertilizer has been marketed un-
der the name BioPower. Field trials using BioPower demonstrate that
inoculating the roots of crops can save as much as 70-90 percent of
the nitrogen requirements for legumes, 50 percent for rice, 50 per-
cent for corn, 30 percent for wheat, and even 50 to 70 percent for
cotton. These savings in nutrient requirements translate to 25 to 117
USD per hectare for legumes, 33 USD for rice, 41 USD for corn, 21
USD for wheat, and 103 USD for cotton.x

37
Policy Options to Reduce Inorganic Nitrogen Consumption
Currently, no federal policy directly addresses chemical fertilizer
consumption. In the status quo, the United States Department of Ag-
riculture (USDA) offers financial support to farmers through farm
loans and through subsidies, referred to as direct payments.xi, xii, xiii
Most USDA loans take the form of low interest commodity finances
to insure against farmers selling their stocks when prices are low at
harvest. The USDA only offers direct fertilizer price support through
emergency farm loans and direct farm loans to disadvantaged
(minority and beginning) farmers. With this, farmers eligible for
the loans can use the financial resources to buy agricultural inputs
including fertilizer. The USDA also distributes direct payments to
farmers in possession of “base acres”** for certain economical-
ly significant crops, including corn and soy. Due to World Trade
Organization restrictions, the USDA cannot directly subsidize
fertilizer for producers or consumers. The only explicit reference in
the 2008 Farm Bill to fertilizer is the authorization of one million
dollars in funding for research on renewable energy for chemical
fertilizer production.xiv Reforming USDA policy to reduce chemical
fertilizer dependence will require the creation of new programs and
awareness of variation between regions and individual farms.
Agronomic data suggests that farmers use between 24 and
32 percent more nitrogen than needed for optimal crop yields.xv
Therefore, simple and cost efficient policy options can signifi-
cantly impact chemical fertilizer consumption. Farmers may have
ifferent reasons for over-applying nutrients, so the same poli-
cies may have different impacts in different regions.xv The most
effective policies will be implemented on the local level. Still, all
farmers fundamentally apply nutrients in excess because of
uncertainty surrounding the level of nutrients al-
ready present in soil. This preemptive action covers
unforeseeable events during the cropping season that may
decrease nutrient levels. Therefore, farmers perceive nutrient
over-application as favorable, despite increased costs. Policy
solutions must reduce uncertainty about local nutrient demands
and create incentives for conservation. Glen Sheriff warns against
disincentives such as input taxes and regulations on chemical fertil-
izer as politically infeasible and economically damaging to farmers.xv
Instead, Sheriff suggests policies that help manage risk, such as crop
insurance, and that encourage adoption of environmentally benefi-
cial practices such as upgraded irrigation systems, soil nitrogen con-
tent tests, and organic nitrogen crediting.
These win-win policies could and should be implemented
through existing policy mechanisms. The 2008 Farm Bill reduces
subsidies to farm insurance companies; these subsidies should
be reinstated to alleviate the cost of insurance to farmers, which
will reduce risk to farmers and thus reduce economic uncertainty.
The USDA should also encourage soil nitrogen content tests and
subsidize nitrogen from organic sources through expansion of the
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which provides voluntary
technical and financial assistance to farms seeking to reduce their
environmental impact.iii This assistance already includes estimation
of soil quality and nutrient content. However, the program is lim-
ited in scope and typically only implements changes designed to re-
duce runoff from chemical fertilizer. The CRP should be expanded to
assist more farms by providing estimates of existing soil nutrients
and financial assistance for farms to use alternative nitrogen sourc-
es.
However, directly incentivizing the use of alternative
nitrogen sources is more complex. Because most excess manure is
produced on confined livestock operations, the federal government
can encourage the distribution of manure as fertilizer by taxing
feedlots that do not distribute their manure. The USDA can further
incentivize alternatives to chemical fertilizer through expansion of
eligibility requirements for direct payment subsidies to include
alternative nitrogen sources. Furthermore, the crops included in
direct payment programs should include nitrogen-fixing crops.***
To encourage the use of biofertilizer in colder climates, where
cover cropping is economically unviable, the USDA should create new
subsidy programs for the inoculation of cash crops with
nitrogen fixing microbes. Additionally, the USDA should either expand
emergency assistance loans to include farmers transitioning from
chemical fertilizer to organic fertilizer sources or create a new
category of loans for the cost of cover cropping and microbe
inoculation.
Through coordinated and comprehensive policy, the USDA can
substantially reduce agricultural consumption of inorganic nitrogen
fertilizer. In addition to causing water contamination, the production
of nitrogen fertilizer represents agriculture’s greatest contribution
to fossil fuel consumption, totaling 1-2 percent of all global fossil
fuel use. While this contribution appears relatively minor, chemi-
cal nitrogen fertilizer is wasteful and often unnecessary. Reducing
agricultural dependence on inorganic nitrogen can help stabilize
crop prices, which have risen proportionally to fertilizer prices in
recent years.xvi Crop prices are currently falling, but fertilizer prices
will continue to rise with the price of natural gas, creating potential
for further crop price volatility and crop shortages. Farmers have
already begun to search for organic alternatives to chemical
fertilizer that are now economically viable and less susceptible to
drastic price changes. Policy makers must facilitate this transition to
protect the environment, farmers, and global food security.
39
Notes
*For perspective, 55 megajoules is equivalent to the amount of energy required to run an
average car 25 milesiv.
**“Base acres” refers to farmlands on which certain crops have historically already been
grownxi
***Currently Direct Payment subsidies are offered for barley, corn, sorghum, oats, cano-
la, crambe, flaxseed, mustard seed, rapeseed, safflower, sesame seed, sunflower seed,
peanuts, rice, soybeans, upland cotton, and wheat, of which only soy fixes any nitrogen.

References
i
Jensen, E. and Hauggaard-Nielsen, H. How can increased use of biological N2 fixation in
agriculture benefit the environment? Plant and Soil 2004; 252(1): 177-186.
ii
[FAOSTAT] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Statistics Division.
Consumption in Nutrient in the United States and the World in 2006 [Internet]. Fertiliz-
ers: FAOSTAT; 2008, June. Available from http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FertilizerUse/
iii
Booth, M. and Campbell, C. Spring Nitrate Flux in the Mississippi River Basin: A Land-
scape Model with Conservation Applications. Environmental Science and Technology
2007; 41(15): 5410 -5418.
iv
Lux, Jim. Comparison of relative energies and powers [Internet]. Jim Lux’s Website;
2000, Feb. Available from: http://home.earthlink.net/~jimlux/energies.htm
v
Economic Research Service (US). Confined animal production and manure nutrients.
United States Department of Agriculture; 2001, June. Agriculture Information Bulletin
No. (AIB771). Available from http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/aib771/
vi
Trachtenberg, E. and Ogg, C. Potential for reducing nitrogen pollution through improved
agronomic practices. Journal of the American Water Resources Association. 1994; 30(6):
1109-1118.
vii
Managing Cover Crops Profitably (3rd ed.). Beltsville, MD: Sustainable Agriculture Net-
work; 2007
viii
Economic Research Service (US). Impact of rising natural gas price on U.S. ammonia
supply. United States Department of Agriculture. Outlook report no. WRS 0702. Available
from http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/WRS0702/
ix
Economic Research Service(US). Nitrogen used on corn, rate per fertilized acre receiv-
ing nitrogen, selected states [Internet]. US Fertilizer Use and Price Data Set: United States
Department of Agriculture; 2007, Oct. Available from: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/
FertilizerUse/
x
Malik, K., Hafeez, F.Y., Mirza, M.S., Hameed, S., Rasul, G., Bilal, R. Rhizospheric plant-mi-
crobe interactions for sustainable agriculture. In: Wang, Y., Lin, M., Tian, Z., Elmerich, C.,
Newton, W., editors, Biological nitrogen fixation, sustainable agriculture and the environ-
ment. The Netherlands: Springer; 2005. p.257-260.
xi
Farm Service Agency. News and Events [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: USDA: 2008; USDA
issues advanced direct payments; 7 Jul, 2008 [cited Nov 13, 2008];[about 2 screens].
Available from http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/newsReleases?area=newsroom&subject=lan
ding&topic= ner&newstype=newsrel&type=detail&item=nr_20080707_rel_0178.html
xii
Farm Service Agency. Farm Loans Program [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: USDA: 2008;
Direct farm loans; 5 Sep, 2007 [cited Nov 13, 2008];[about 2 screens]. Available from
http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=fmlp&topic=dfl
xiii
Farm Service Agency. Price Support [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: USDA: 2008; Market
loss assistance payment program; 20 Mar, 2008 [cited Nov 13, 2008];[about 2 screens].
Available from http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=prsu&topic=
mpp
xiv
Economic Research Service. 2008 Farm Bill Side-By-Side [Internet]. Washington, D.C.:
USDA: 2008; 2008 farm bill side-by-side; 2 Oct, 2008 [cited Nov 13, 2008]. Available from
http://www.ers.usda.gov/FarmBill/2008/
xv
Sheriff, G. Efficient waste? Why farmers over-apply nutrients and the implications for
policy design. Review of Agricultural Economics. 2005; 27(4): 542-557.
xvi
Bradsher, K. Martin, Andrew. Shortages threaten farmers’ key tool: fertilizer. New
York Times (World Business). 2008 Apr 30. Available from: http://www.nytimes.
com/2008/04/30/business/worldbusiness/30fertilizer.html?_r=1
Analysis of Cap-and-Trade
Matthew Tidwell, Johns Hopkins University

Abstract
Cap-and-trade is often touted as the most effective and politically ten-
able policy proposal to address global climate change. This article
attempts to address these widely held beliefs by exploring the implica-
tions and pitfalls of adopting a federal greenhouse gas cap-and-trade
program in the United States. It argues that a cap-and-trade regime
is problematic because it would be: 1) based on the flawed premise
of a ‘safe’ concentration of greenhouse gas emissions; 2) unable to
provide a clear, stable price on greenhouse gases; and 3) open to
manipulation and fraud. By comparing cap-and-trade to a carbon
tax, it concludes that a carbon tax offers a more efficient and effective
means to put a much-needed price on GHG emissions resulting from
fossil fuel combustion.

Introduction
Global climate change poses a serious threat to the prosperity of the
United States and every other nation on Earth. The principal cause
of climate change is the emission into the Earth’s atmosphere of
anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon diox-
ide, which leads directly to an increase in the natural rate of
warming from the greenhouse effect. Burning fossil fuels and
deforestation are two of the primary reasons for the increase in
atmospheric GHG concentrations since the Industrial Revolution. It
was not until fossil fuels began to drive our economic machine that
scientists understood the link between GHG emissions and climate
change. Even with this understanding, GHGs continue to be emitted
because there is no economic price on GHGs or the damage they
cause. The ‘external’ costs of polluting are borne by society rather
than those who are responsible for the emissions; therefore, impos-
ing costs on the polluters of GHG emissions is a goal of climate pol-
icy.
If a price were put on GHGs, the economic equation for many
business activities would change as entities would have to include
the new ‘costs’ of carbon and other GHGs into their profit equations.
Using an old coal-fired power plant, as a simplified example, helps
illustrate this. Without a price on GHG emissions, the plant’s costs
are low, requiring only overhead costs and the cost of purchasing
the coal. Given its abundance and U.S. federal subsidiesi, coal is a
cheap fossil fuel, which makes running the relatively inefficient plant
profitable. If a price were imposed on carbon emissions, the costs
41
of running such a plant would rise dramatically, due to coal’s very
high carbon content.ii Although the plant could continue operations,
the price of its electricity would increase, driving away customers.
Competitors with lower or no GHG emissions like natural gas-fired
power plants or wind farms would see monetary benefits. Similarly,
with a price on GHGs, individuals would be affected as higher prices
would discourage consumption of fossil fuels (and, at some point,
adoption of new technologies).
The goal of having a price on GHGs is to inform our decisions
based on their true impact on the environment, and by extension
society. When we see the true costs, we make different choices,
for example, using less energy, generating energy with cleaner
resources, and finding alternatives to existing business practices.
Climate change legislation, therefore, is needed at the federal level
to help create a message in the form of price signaling to increase
supply or reduce demand. Given the numerous causes of climate
change, legislation must implement a multi-faceted policy approach,
including reducing or eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels. Because
burning fossil fuels (for electricity generation, transportation, heat-
ing and industrial processes) makes up the largest percentage of
GHGs emitted annually in the U.S.,iii many legislative proposals in-
volve reducing emissions from these sectors of the economy.
The most popular GHG reduction model is a market-based
cap-and-trade regime. The principal objective of this policy proposal
is to put a declining cap on emissions of carbon and other GHGs,
while still allowing polluters to trade allowance permits. The trad-
ing component is left to the market as it finds the most cost-effec-
tive emission reductions, theoretically helping to lower compliance
costs. Imposing a cap introduces the forces of supply and demand
for available permits resulting in a price for ‘the right to pollute.’
Because the cap is set below the business-as-usual level of emissions,
permit scarcity would make it more expensive to use fossil fuels;
therefore reducing the usage of polluting fuels and emission levels.
Concurrently, the increased costs of fossil fuels make it easier for
alternative energy sources to reach price parity with fossil fuels,
boosting the economic viability of alternative energy.iv
In the United States, the consensus among many states,
legislators, businesses and environmental groups is that cap-and-
trade is the most effective and politically tenable policy proposal to
address global climate change.v In fact, almost all proposals intro-
duced in the 110th United States Congress proposed cap-and-trade;
and, during his presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to
implement an economy-wide program.vi This paper will argue that
a U.S. domestic cap-and-trade regime is problematic because it is 1)
based on the flawed premise of a ‘safe’ concentration of GHG emis-
sions; 2) unable to provide a clear, stable price on greenhouse gases;
and 3) open to manipulation and fraud.
While no climate policy is perfect, on balance, a more efficient
and sound policy would be an upstream carbon tax. A national car-
bon tax levied at the point source, or where a fuel enters the market
(e.g. at the coal mine, well head or port), and ratcheted up over time
would introduce into the market a clear, stable price on GHG emis-
sions. The ever-increasing price on GHGs, however, will not be suffi-
cient to facilitate the ‘breakthrough’ technologies needed to prevent
catastrophic climate change. Therefore, the tax must be coupled
with ambitious technology policies geared toward the development,
deployment and commercialization of clean technologies that pro-
vide the services citizens want with minimal contribution to climate
change.

Background on Cap-and-Trade
A U.S. GHG cap-and-trade regime would likely entail a regulatory au-
thority, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, setting a max-
imum level of emissions allowable under the regime (the national
cap) and distributing pollution permits that regulated entities would
have to surrender for each ton of pollution emitted during a compli-
ance period. Depending on the regime, these entities could be either
upstream (factories, producers) or downstream (end-users).
Regulated entities would be able to purchase the permits through an
auction-like process, or the regulating body could distribute them for
free. Some regulated entities will purchase more permits than are re-
quired for compliance; those entities can then trade their excess per-
mits to other entities in need of additional permits. As the regime’s
cap ratchets down, so too would the number of permits available in
the market, thereby increasing over time the cost to pollute.
The cap-and-trade model is based on the success of the U.S.
1990 Clean Air Act amendments aimed at reducing acid rain by
establishing a regulatory regime involving the buying and selling
of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution permits. Currently,
the largest existing GHG cap-and-trade regime in the world is the
European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) created to
help the EU reach its reduction targets as defined by the 1997 Kyoto
Protocol. Because of the success of the acid rain program, U.S. treaty
negotiators pushed hard and successfully to base the Kyoto Protocol
on cap-and-trade. The momentum behind cap-and-trade, however,
has blinded policymakers and much of the public from other op-
tions.vii

Flawed Premise
One of the most serious pitfalls of cap-and-trade is that the very
premise of such a regime is flawed. The underlying presumption
43
behind the premise is that there is a “safe” threshold level of
greenhouse gases that would prevent catastrophic global climate
change. The level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmo-
sphere is currently more than 380 ppm (parts per million), which
is a 40% higher concentration than before the industrial revolution
and, some say, the highest in the last 650,000 years.viii The most
commonly cited goal most often behind cap-and-trade programs is to
stabilize “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level
that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the
climate system.”ix In policy terms, this is often expressed as a goal
that reflects a percentage reduction of GHG emissions compared
to a base year, e.g. a reduction of 5.2% percent compared to 1990
emissions levels.x Therefore, the goal is to reach a concentration
level that is considered “safe”, or at the very least, will not cause
catastrophic climate change.xi
To illustrate the problem with trying to reach a specified
emission target by a given date, it is worth quoting at length Warwick
J. McKibbinxii and Peter J. Wilcoxen:xiii

The risks associated with climate change result from


the accumulated stocks of carbon dioxide and oth-
er greenhouse gases. Each additional ton of emis-
sions increases the risk, although very slightly, and
there is no threshold below which risks are zero…
In the absence of a clear threshold, basing a climate
policy on a rigid emissions target makes little sense:
achieving the target does not eliminate the risk and ex-
ceeding the target does not cause consequences mark-
edly different from achieving it. Put bluntly, when every
ton of emissions contributes equally to the problem, it
is impossible to justify any particular emission target,
other than possibly no emissions at all.xiv

Thus, a domestic cap-and-trade regime that, for example, aims


for an 80% reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 has the
wrong goal in mind.xv Since we cannot be sure (and may never be sure)
which threshold level of emissions is “dangerous,” our goal should
be to a wholesale elimination of man-made GHGs from the global
economy. Domestic policy, therefore, should be geared toward
“input” measures rather than “output” measures like an arbitrary
emissions level.xvi Policy makers should explore options within a
framework of sustainable development, such as percentage of
electricity generated by non-CO2 emitting sources; these can easily
be expanded upon in the future and create a foundation for future
growth.
It is reasonable to argue that the level of a national carbon tax
would also be based on an emissions target, albeit implicitly. Without
an emissions target how would the federal government decide between
an initial tax of $2 per ton of CO2 or $40? The purpose of the tax must
be to provide a clear and stable emissions price that acts principally
to reduce fossil fuel consumption while simultaneously supporting
the other climate policies enacted by the government; it should be a
fairly straightforward economic analysis to determine an initial carbon
price that will have a “motivating” effect without limiting economic
growth.xvii

Price Volatility
The goal of a cap-and-trade regime is to create a market for a hith-
erto external cost and turn it into a commodity with a price and
institutionalized trading structure. But a price is not all that is need-
ed in order to incentivize behavior and investment change; a stable
price is essential as well. If, for example, one of the goals of the
regimes is to influence the investment decisions of electric utilities,
it is critical that a stable and transparent price exist so that utili-
ties can incorporate the carbon price into their long-term investment
decisions. A cap-and-trade regime, however, is unlikely to deliver a
stable price. In the first place, it will be difficult to make the market truly
transparent because of the unknown number of market players
at any one time and the time lags with reporting and compliance.
Second, the potential for the regulatory body to increase the number
of allowances into the system, change the regime’s cap or otherwise
affect the supply and demand of allowances over time would create
a high level of uncertainty in the market. If the regime disperses
too many (i.e. set the cap too high), the market will result in too low
a price; if it does not disperse enough (i.e. sets the cap too low) the
market will yield too high a price. The result is a market marked by
price volatility, the very thing that will limit long term investment.
The EU ETS provides a case study illustrating the problem of
price volatility coupled with an absence of a significant change in
investment decisions. The first stage of the program was a “trial”
period and uncertainty has continued to plague the ETS. It is the
perfect example of how a carbon cap-and-trade system does not
necessarily result in behavior and investment change.xviii
Another consideration concerning the carbon price is that
currently proposed GHG cap-and-trade regimes may not generate a
sufficiently high carbon price to affect business practice. In order
to ensure that a given regime will not lead to politically unpalatable
price increases (for electricity, fuel oil, natural gas, etc.), proposed
regimes often include a ‘price ceiling.’ If the market price of carbon
reaches or surpasses a certain price level for a sustained period of
time, then the regulatory body has to issue more allowances, allow
45
in more project-based credits (offsets), or allow foreign emission
credits from outside the regime (to increase supply and thereby drive
down the price). Regardless of the mechanism, the cap is broken and
the regime is that much further from reaching its target. Critics will
argue that a carbon tax will inflate the cost of carbon, but a high
carbon price is precisely what is needed in order to achieve price
parity for alternative, clean technologies and to incentivize innova-
tion and behavior change.
Both a cap-and-trade and tax strategy will meet with political
resistance; we should aim for the carbon tax that, at least, is more
likely to provide the necessary price stability and transparency. As
William A. Pizer, Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future, points out
regarding the debate between the “quantities” approach (cap-and-
trade) and the “price” approach (carbon tax): “we cannot be certain
about both a policy’s cost and its environmental outcome. Economic
efficiency, however, based on relatively constant marginal damages,
argues for cost certainty over emissions certainty.”xix

Manipulation and Fraud


Perhaps one of the most alarming aspects of a cap-and-trade regime
is that it would likely be open to significant manipulation and fraud.
Entrenched fossil fuel interests have much at stake concerning
climate policy and tend to favor a cap-and-trade regime. More time
is needed to develop the necessary extensive regulatory frame-
work; therefore, a cap-and-trade program would only prolong the
status quo. Furthermore, under such a regime, windfall profits are
possible via allowances that are handed out for free. One might
cynically suggest that several of the major companies that have
joined the bandwagon of support for a cap-and-trade program did
so because of the ability of such a coalition to impact and manipulate
a policy scheme that is very difficult for the average person to un-
derstand. As an example, it is doubtful that many industry members
of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a group of businesses and
environmental organizations, have had a genuine change of heart
about the need for climate action, but rather see the coalition as a
means to secure more favorable climate legislation. Another sector
of the economy that is particularly supportive of cap-and-trade is the
finance industry because of the focus on trading.xx
The use of offsets within a cap-and-trade regime presents even
more of an opportunity for fraud. Many U.S. congressional cli-
mate proposals allow a certain percentage of offsets to be used for
compliance.xxi There are many valid theoretical reasons for allowing
offsets to be included, such as keeping down costs and mitigating
emissions in non-capped sectors. But offsets are too problematic
to provide real emissions reductions because of the “technically and
politically impossible task of making a baseline assessment”xxii and
the tenuous notion of “additionality.” The flawed logic of a project
being “in addition to” the business-as-usual scenario is glaring in
light of the current financial crisis.
Manipulation and spurious emissions reductions are already in
evidence in existing carbon markets with numerous credits having
been generated by what the industry has come to call ‘junk proj-
ects.’ Some analysts and environmental organizations estimate that
up to two-thirds of the credits created under the Clean Development
Mechanism—one of the market-mechanisms under the Kyoto
Protocol—are fraudulent.xxiii
There is no doubt that a carbon tax is also susceptible to
immense political pressure. If a tax were considered by Congress,
industry would certainly lobby for an initially low tax amount and
exemptions, thereby weakening the regime. There would also be the
opportunity for entities to evade the tax. But once implemented, a
carbon tax would provide relatively fewer opportunities for fraud.

Conclusion
Cap-and-trade is first and foremost a political solution to what is
essentially an economic problem. A principal reason why cap-and-
trade has more political traction and environmental support in the
U.S. than other policy proposals, such as a carbon tax, is because of
the general notion that any policy advocating for any sort of tax is
“dead upon arrival.” Within such a political climate, advocates for
climate action from all spectrums are pushing for “something” since
the U.S. has gone so long with nothing. Supporters return to the old
adage, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” But this is no
time for timidity. Policy makers should consider the following:

1.Creating a cap-and-trade regime as a “critical first step for-


ward” would put into motion an administrative regime with
inertia that would likely prove difficult to change in the event
that the policy is shown to be less than optimal;
2.The political environment in America can and has changed
quickly when the times required it to do so; particularly
when a carbon tax could mean less governmental interven-
tion and smoother operating markets. Our history should
serve to undermine the current anti-tax, anti-regulation
fatalism on the Left,
3.If we truly accept what much of contemporary scientific study
suggests about the dangers and consequences of man-made
climate change, there is no time for half measures; and policy
makers or politicians will be judged harshly by history for fail-
ing to act in a bold and decisive manner.
47
Given the current financial climate calling for regulation and gov-
ernment intervention, the significant loss of faith in the power
of unbridled markets to solve problems, and a new progressive
presidential administration, there could well be a political shift that
allows for a carbon tax if bold policymakers are ready to act.xxiv Yet,
a tax alone would not be enough to meet the challenges of climate
change. Much more will be needed. Both cap-and-trade and a carbon
tax have serious shortcomings, but a domestic carbon tax offers a
more efficient and effective means to put a much-needed price on
GHG emissions. Together with aggressive technology and other cli-
mate policies, a carbon tax also provides the U.S. with an opportunity
to quickly embrace an international leadership role on the climate
change effort.

Notes and References


i
Of the $7,435 million (2007 dollars) of U.S. federal fuel-specific energy subsidies
(FY2007), coal and refined coal received a combined total of $3,234 million, or 43.5%
(Energy Information Administration (US). Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies
in Energy Markets 2007 [Internet]. April 2008 [cited 22 November 2008]. Report #:SR/
CNEAF/2008-01. Chapter 5, Table 30, p. 100. Available from: http://www.eia.doe.gov/
oiaf/servicerpt/subsidy2/pdf/chap5.pdf).
ii
According to the US Energy Information Administration, “Coal combustion emits almost
twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy as does the combustion of natural gas,
whereas the amount from crude oil combustion falls between coal and natural gas (Hong
B, Slatick E. Carbon Dioxide Emission Factors for Coal. [cited 11 January 2009]. Endnote
1. Available from: http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/coal/quarterly/co2_article/co2.html).
iii
For 2006, fossil fuel combustion accounted for 5,637.9 (Tg CO2 Eq.) out of 7,054.2 (Tg
CO2 Eq.) total GHG emissions, or roughly 80% (Environmental Protection Agency (US).
Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2006 [Internet]. April 2008
[cited 23 November 2008]. USEPA #430-R-08-005. Executive Summary, pp. ES-5 and
ES-6, Table ES-2. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/down-
loads/08_ES.pdf).
iv
For project cost comparisons, see: (Energy Information Administration (US). Assump-
tions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2008 [Internet]. June 2008 [cited 20 November
2008]. DOE/EIA-0554(2008). Table 38, p. 79. Available from: http://www.eia.doe.gov/
oiaf/aeo/assumption/pdf/electricity.pdf#page=3). For example, base overnight costs,
defined on page 78 as “the cost estimates to build a plant in a typical region of the coun-
try” (expressed in 2006 dollars per kilowatt), in 2007 were $1,434, $450, $1,340, and
$3,499 for new scrubbed coal, advanced natural gas, wind, and solar thermal, respec-
tively, before investment tax credits are applied.
v
See the website of the United States Climate Action Partnership for a list of businesses
and environmental organizations in favor of a cap-and-trade regime, http://www.us-cap.
org/. See also the Western Climate Initiative, http://www.westernclimateinitiative.org/,
and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, http://www.rggi.org/home, for evidence of
state support.
vi
At least six cap-and-trade proposals were introduced in the Senate and five in the House
of Representatives, while two carbon tax proposals were introduced in the House (Larsen
J, Heilmayr R. Comparison of Legislative Climate Change Targets. World Resources In-
stitute. 9 September 2008 [cited 22 November 2008]. Available from: http://pdf.wri.org/
usclimatetargets_2008-09-09.pdf; and Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Carbon Tax
Proposals from the 110th Congress. [cited November 22, 2008] Available from: http://
www.pewclimate.org/congress/110th/carbon_tax). For the Obama-Biden proposal,
Obama for America. Barack Obama and Joe Biden: New Energy for America. [cited 19
November 2008] Available from: http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/factsheet_energy_
speech_080308.pdf.
vii
See footnotes 4 and 5, and the website of the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change for country proposals for a “post-2012” international agreement that
are supportive of the cap-and-trade model (Available from: http://unfccc.int/meetings/
ad_hoc_working_groups/lca/items/4578.php [cited 20 November 2008]).
viii
David A. World carbon dioxide levels highest for 650,000 years, says U.S. report. The
Guardian [Internet]. 13 May 2008 [cited 16 October 2008]. Available from: http://www.
guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/13/carbonemissions.climatechange.
ix
Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Available
from: http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/background/items/1353.php).
x
This is the emissions reduction goal for industrialized countries under the Kyoto Proto-
col.
xi
The Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change provides numerous climate scenarios based on different ppm levels
(Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis [Internet]. New York (NY): Cambridge
University Press; c2007 [cited 15 October 2008]. Available from: http://www.ipcc.ch/ipc-
creports/ar4-wg1.htm).
xii
Professor of International Economics at the Australian National University.
xiii
Associate Professor of Economics and Public Administration at the Maxwell School of
Syracuse University.
xiv
McKibbin WJ, Wilcoxen PJ. A credible foundation for long-term international coopera-
tion on climate change. In: Aldy JE, Stavins RN, editors. Architectures for Agreement:
Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge
University Press; 2007. p. 189.
xv
Emissions target can be found in Section 702 of Senate bill S.309, introduced on Janu-
ary 16, 2007 (GovTrack.us [Internet]. S. 309--110th Congress (2007): Global Warming
Pollution Reduction Act. [cited 23 November 2008] Available from: http://www.govtrack.
us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s110-309).
xvi
For a discussion of measures relating to international climate policy, see Barrett S.
A multitrack climate treaty system. In: Aldy JE, Stavins RN, editors. Architectures for
Agreement: Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World. Cambridge (UK):
Cambridge University Press; 2007. p. 237-59.
xvii
House bill H.R. 2069, for example, proposes an initial $10 per ton of carbon and an-
nual increases of $10 per ton (GovTrack.us [Internet]. H.R. 2069--110th Congress (2007):
Save Our Climate Act of 2007. [cited 23 November 2008] Available from: http://www.
govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-2069).
xviii
Ellerman DA, Joskow P. The European Union’s Emissions Trading System in Perspec-
tive [Internet]. Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. May 2008 [cited
October 15 2008]. Available from: http://www.pewclimate.org/docUploads/EU-ETS-In-
Perspective-Report.pdf. Rosenthal E. Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears.
The New York Times [Internet]. 23 April 2008 [cited 12 October 2008]. Available from:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/europe/23coal.html?_r=1&bl&ex=1209096
000&en=c73a8d0a1cc4dbf6&ei=5087%0A&oref=slogin.
xix
Pizer WA. Practical global climate policy. In: Aldy JE, Stavins RN, editors. Architectures
for Agreement: Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World. Cambridge
(UK): Cambridge University Press; 2007. p. 289.
xx
See, for example, the membership list of the International Emissions Trading Asso-
ciation for financial institutions and energy companies that are in favor of emissions
trading (IETA Members as of October 2008 [Internet]. International Emissions Trading
Association. [cited 21 November 2008] Available from: http://www.ieta.org/ieta/www/
pages/getfile.php?docID=556).
xxi
Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources (US). Climate Legislation Side by Side
[Internet]. [cited 23 November 2008]. Available from: http://energy.senate.gov/public/_
files/ClimateLegislationSidebySide110thCongress.pdf.
xxii
Victor DG. Fragmented carbon markets and reluctant nations. In: Aldy JE, Stavins RN,
editors. Architectures for Agreement: Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-
Kyoto World. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press; 2007. p. 149.
xxiii
McCully P. Discredited Strategy. The Guardian [Internet]. 21 May 2008 [cited 12 Octo-
ber 2008]. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/21/envi-
49
ronment.carbontrading?gusrc=rss&feed=society.
Haya B. Failed Mechanism: How the CDM is subsidizing hydro developers and harming
the Kyoto Protocol [Internet]. International Rivers. November 2007 [cited 10 October
2008]. Available from: http://internationalrivers.org/files/Failed_Mechanism_3.pdf.
xxiv
For a particularly promising carbon tax proposal, see James Hansen’s suggestion for a
“Carbon Tax and 100% Dividend” (4 June 2008 and 29 December 2008 postings. Avail-
able from: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/).
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory at
the University of North Dakota
Anduin Kirkbride McElroy, Shawn O’Neil, Santosh Rijal,
Navin Thapa, and Junyu Yang, The University of North
Dakota

Abstract
Analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data collected by students
is meant to facilitate sustainable policy decisions within the University
of North Dakota, the North Dakota University System and the state
government. The authors, UND graduate students, compiled the first
GHG emissions inventory in October 2008 as part of the pledge to the
American Colleges and University Presidents Climate Commitment.
The authors developed specific methodology and data collection
protocol to assemble the data and interpret emissions trends, using
the Clean Air-Cool Planet Campus Carbon Calculator. The protocol
sets standards for problem areas identified by the authors; this in-
cludes a system for tracking diesel gallons for the state fleet and the
need for tracking air travel miles. It also includes recommendations
for university policy that would improve data collection. The protocol
would pave the way for other state entities to implement their own
GHG inventory and climate action plans. The final report will provide
baseline information used to develop a climate action plan to achieve
climate neutrality. The climate action plan committee could use the
results to develop recommendations for sustainability, such as replac-
ing the coal-fired steam plant or using bio-fuels in aviation training.

A greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory is arguably the


most important step in the process to reduce emissions. It is the
cornerstone for all further actions, as it provides a system of
accountability, methodology, protocol and baseline results, which are
used to develop an action plan and make comparisons and recom-
mendations. It is important to perform a GHG emissions inventory
correctly so it can serve as a catalyst to a catalyst to future emissions
analyses and attempts towards mitigation.
This paper will explain the process used to inventory the GHG
emissions at the University of North Dakota (UND). University of
North Dakota is a public university in Grand Forks, North Dakota,
(pop. 50,000), located on the Minnesota border, and approximate-
ly 75 miles from the Canadian border. University of North Dakota
employs 792 faculty and 1,957 staff. There are currently 12,748
51
students enrolled in 193 fields of study, including medicine, law and
aviation. The campus includes 223 buildings (5.33 million square
feet) on 549 acres.i
Some of the university’s emissions may not be typical of all
universities. For example, UND is situated in an area characterized
by warm summers and long, severely cold winters. Heating/cooling
degree days are a quantitative index designed to reflect the demand
for energy needed to heat/cool a building. The number of cooling de-
gree days at UND was 607 in 2007, compared to the national average
of 1,217.ii The number of heating degree days was 8,958, compared
to the national average of 5,094. Though emissions from cooling are
less than that of other universities, this does not outweigh the greater
emissions from winter heating by the coal-fired steam plant. In 2007,
UND had 3,254 more degree days than the national average.ii “Other
unique emissions sources on campus are energy intensive research
programs, such as the Energy and Environmental Research Center,
and training programs like the University of North Dakota’s aviation
school, which has the world’s largest non-military fleet of training
aircrafti. The University is also unique in that more than half of its
electricity supply comes from a hydroelectric dam in western North
Dakota.iiiiii The remainder of its electricity is generated through a
mixture of coal-power, nuclear, and other sources.
The University of North Dakota has already invested
significantly in energy efficiency projects. Beginning in 2000, it ex-
ecuted a $3.9 million comprehensive energy efficiency improve-
ment program reducing electrical and steam usage.iv The program
saves approximately $0.5 million each year, which is used to pay
off the renovation cost. An additional $2.1 million facility energy
improvement program reduced electrical, steam, natural gas and
water usage, beginning in 2005.iv These actions were guided by
efforts to reduce energy consumption, but were not based on a
campus-wide survey of consumption patterns and GHG emissions.
The GHG emissions inventory was performed in October
2008 and was compiled in large part by the authors of this paper,
graduate students in Earth System Science and Policy. The
inventory was required as a part of the university’s commitment to the
American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment
(ACUPCC) to develop a plan to achieve carbon neutrality.v The climate
action plan is dependent on the results of this inventory, which was
the first to be performed by any college in North Dakota.vi When UND
committed to the ACUPCC in January 2008, it also committed to
other sustainability actions, such as assessing curricula for
sustainability coverage and keeping an inventory of all
environmentally relevant research projects.iv Most of these commit-
ments are still pending, but the completion of the inventory compila-
tion can serve to put these actions into motion.
In the methodology section, this paper explains the methods
used to ensure accuracy. The protocol section explains the process
that was developed to ensure consistent data collection for future
inventories. In the discussion section, this paper uses the inven-
tory results to demonstrate the flow of data acquisition and the
consequences of incorrect protocol. The discussion also includes
recommendations based on data collected in the inventory, which
the authors believe would reduce the university’s GHG emissions.

Methodology
Greenhouse Gas emissions of fiscal years 1993-2007 were calculat-
ed based on data collected in a 2008 project. The emissions were
calculated for UND following the procedures outlined for ACUPCC
and using The Clean Air-Cool Planet Campus Carbon Calculator
as the primary tool.ii The calculator is a free Excel workbook that
facilitates the calculation of project emissions from 1990-2060 and
produces charts and graphs which illustrate changes and emission
trends. The calculator includes all six greenhouse gases specified
by the Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4, N2O, HFC, PFC, and SF6. It is based
on workbooks provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change for national-level inventories and is adapted for use at
institutions of higher education.vii Emissions are reported by metric

tons of carbon dioxide emissions (MTCDE).


Figure 1: Campus carbon calculator spreadsheet mapii

All data collection, calculations, and estimations were done


with the goal of inputting the appropriate data in the corresponding
carbon calculator category. Data was collected across three scopes of
emissions, indicating the level of responsibility and the ownership of
emissions:

Scope 1: Direct emissions sources


•On-campus stationary sources (steam plant and generators)
53
•Transportation
•Fugitive emissions from refrigeration and agriculture.
Scope 2: Indirect sources owned by UND
•Purchased electricity
Scope 3: Sources not owned but financed by UND
•Commuting faculty, staff and students
•Directly financed study abroad air travel
•Solid waste
•Wastewater
•Paper

Once all the data was collected and data gaps were eliminat-
ed, the numbers were inputted into the carbon calculator. Tnum-
bers were inputted into the carbon calculator, which processed the
data by identifying emissions factors and detailing emissions results
for each year. These results were made into graphs and other visual
instruments used to demonstrate campus emission trends. After
evaluation by separate parties, minor errors were found in the
original input data and subsequent calculations. For example, the
electricity sources were incorrectly cited. Once corrected, the yielded
results showed UND’s emissions to be much less than the initial es-
timation (Table 1).viii

Year On- Purchased All Trans- Solid Total


Campus Electricity portation Waste & Campus
Stationary Sources Wastewa- Emissions
Sources ter
Emissions results in MTCDE 10/30/2008
1993 91,282 43,662 18,070 2,285 160,334
2000 92,777 48,355 22,582 2,130 171,325
2007 95,655 49,432 23,175 2,219 176,205
Emissions results in MTCDE 1/15/2009 after data correc- % change
tion and verification
1993 80,691 17,211 23,891 2,587 126,799 -21%
2000 82,186 20,742 22,582 2,130 130,388 -24%
2007 85,588 24,403 23,175 2,219 138,633 -21%
Table 1: Shows the difference between the initial results of the GHG Inven-
tory and the final results, following all data correction and verification. In the
corrected errors and completion of data sets yielded significant changes in
campus emission totalsviii

Protocol
An important part of GHG inventory is developing of a protocol doc-
ument, which details the methodology, standards, and procedures
for data collection, interpretation, analysis, and record-keeping.
In addition, the 2008 protocol for UND provided a framework of
suggestions and recommendations for improving these procedures,
making future inventories more efficient and accurate. To ensure
consistent data and emissions results, the protocol should be
monitored closely each year the inventory is updated.
The format and structure of the protocol is useful for cover-
ing a wide spectrum of issues that becomes evident when compiling
an inventory. The entire protocol document provides an extensive
report across every category, including contact information, data
type, definitions, collection methods, units, entry info, problems
with data (missing years and estimations/inaccuracies), and recom-
mendations for improvement. This specific protocol can be a point
of reference for any institution interested in making a GHG inventory
and can generate a climate action plan, using the carbon calculator.
Building a protocol for the UND inventory was challenging
because of problem areas associated with the first campus GHG
inventory project. Similar to other GHG inventories, some 1993 data
sets were found to be incomplete, inaccurate, or in need of conver-
sion. The categories in which this occurred were direct transporta-
tion, commuting, air travel, waste, paper purchasing, and fertilizer.
For example, UND is part of the state fleet, which evaluates gasoline
in miles and diesel in hours, yet the calculator only measures in gal-
lons. To account for this discrepancy, a calculation method was de-
veloped to convert data into gallons.
Ultimately, it was deemed important to compile a
comprehensive picture of UND’s emissions over time. In cases where
the data was incomplete, methodology was developed to estimate
numbers based on trends, averages, or other methodology approved
by the ACUPCC. The protocol is especially important for catego-
ries where methodology fills data gaps. The development of more
accurate trends in future data collection will determine the efficacy
of the methodology employed in this inventory.
To ensure that future inventories can collect accurate data,
the protocol recommended changes to some university record-
keeping procedures. For example, a suggestion was made that the
Department of Transportation keep exact records of the fuel
consumed directly from the fleet gas station. The university’s
utilization of North Dakota state fleet poses a challenge, as a
change in university recordkeeping procedures would also require
a change in state procedures. These, and other, recommendations
were condensed into a separate document and submitted to the staff
in charge of the inventory and the climate action plan.

Results and Discussion


Results reveal major sources of GHG emissions and provide a basis
55
for decision-making regarding policies that address these emissions.
They can also motivate institutions to implement policies to reduce
GHG emissions, and are useful for designing climate action plans.
Results can also be used to inform emissions reduction projects
through cost-benefit analyses.
UND’s total emissions increased from 126,799 MTCDE in 1993
to 138,633 MTCDE in 2007, which is a nine percent increase (Figure
2).viii UND’s emissions peaked in 1994 at 140,503 MTCDE. UND emits
on average 131,738 MTCDE per year.

!
Figure 2: UND campus greenhouse gas emissions 1993-2007. Scope 2 T&D Loss-
es are the losses from transmission and distribution of electricity.viii

The major sources of UND’s emissions in 2007 resulted from


on-campus, stationary sources (62 %), purchased electricity (18
%), and transportation (commuting, air travel, direct transporta-
tion, and aviation school—17 %).viii The coal-fired steam plant is the
largest emitter of GHGs, contributing an average of 62% of campus
emissions. Based on this, UND’s climate action plan should prioritize
emissions reductions projects for the steam plant, electricity, and
transportation sources.
Extensive research and data collection will be necessary to
provide project options and to inform the climate action plan
committee on viable alternatives for current practices. Reducing the
steam plant’s emissions will likely be the greatest challenge for the
university. UND researchers are investigating technologies that burn
coal more efficiently. The committee will evaluate recommendations
ranging from replacing the coal plant to introducing cogeneration
capabilities. Approximately 45% of UND’s electricity is purchased
from coal-producing suppliers.viii The committee may recommend
that UND install wind energy technology on or near campus in or-
der to harness North Dakota’s abundant wind. A large source of
transportation emissions comes from the UND’s aviation school,
which is responsible for approximately 4%of total emissions.viii The
committee should recommend that UND showcase its recent research
through the use of biomass-based jet fuel by the aviation school.ix
Such projects would need to be analyzed further to determine their
viability and effectiveness; nevertheless, the GHG inventory provides
a starting point for generating ideas for emission reduction.
Comparison with similar institutions can further explain the
significance of numbers. UND is compared with other institutions
in the region, as well as two local aviation schools (Table 2).vi The
emissions data, which includes all three scopes of emissions and no
offsets, was reported to the ACUPCC. The table shows how these in-
stitutions compare when emissions are normalized by gross MTCDE
per 1000 square-feet and gross MTCDE per full-time enrollment.
Additionally, it includes total emissions, and U.S. Department of
Energy climate zone data (used to determine building standards).
Of the 15 institutions listed below, the average MTCDE per full time
student is 10.2 MTCDE, and the average MTCDE per 1000 square feet
is 18.8 MTCDE.

Institution State USDOE Enroll- Total MTCDE MTCDE


Climate ment MTCDE per FT per 1000
Zone Emissions student sf
South Dakota SD 4 1,734 18,984 10.9 29.5
School of Mines
and Technology
University of OH 4 26,393 372,310 14.1 30.9
Cincinnati
University of ID 5 10,855 39,594 3.6 10.7
Idaho
Boise State ID 5 14,314 49,884 3.5 16.1
University
University of MT 6 1,084 4,265 3.9 11.7
Montana-West-
ern
Macalester Col- MN 6 1,889 26,824 14.2 21.2
lege
Carleton College MN 6 1,986 21,533 10.8 11.9
Saint John’s Uni- MN 6 2,080 47,376 22.8 25.3
versity
College of Saint MN 6 2,087 21,823 10.5 17.8
Benedict
Black Hills State SD 6 2,950 10,698 3.6 14.6
University

57
Winona State MN 6 7,792 2,097 2.8 12.2
University
University of WY 6 8,659 155,634 18.0 22.0
Wyoming
University of MT 6 11,186 42,687 3.8 11.1
Montana-
Missoula
Cornell NY 6 19,800 319,000 16.1 21.4
University
University of ND 7 9,976 138,633 13.9 26.0
North Dakota
Table 2: Comparison of emissions of other institutions, as reported to the
ACUPCC.vi
While the results would be unique for each institution, they
can be standardized according to demographics like dollars spent,
students, and building space. Comparisons provide a basis for
generating ideas and making decisions regarding policies that
address emissions. Other institutions can use the results of their
inventories accordingly, identifying their own unique characteristics and
problem areas and taking the necessary steps toward decision-mak-
ing.Because the GHG inventory is updated annually, the university
should take the proper steps toward making the data collection more
efficient and accurate. UND should mandate record-keeping
procedures which comply with the needs of the carbon calculator,
and ultimately the GHG inventory. As described in the protocol
section, after the inventory is completed, a request should be sent
to each appropriate department describing data records that are
requested each fiscal year. They should also designate a contact person
responsible for such records. Additional steps recommended for
UND include:

Increase student involvement in project planning


•Graduate research assistants can focus on sustainable
campus projects
•Class projects can be designed to further project
research
•Curriculum can be established around the theme of sus-
tainable campus planning

Establish partnerships between the climate committee and cam-


pus research units
•Develop a centralized energy budget
•Provide annual reports on overall institutional energy
expenditures
•Use data on expenditures to inform future projects and
examine alternatives
Reducing GHG emissions should be a campus-wide approach.
Sustainable policy decisions can start by establishing proper
record-keeping procedures, involving students in planning and
research, and collaborating between disciplines and research units.
The promotion of awareness and partnership can benefit any
institution hoping to reduce GHG emissions.

Conclusion
The results gathered from the GHG inventory will be used to
prioritize projects, justify decisions and develop a climate action
plan. Information gathered from the analysis of results will provide
the basis for policy decisions aimed at reducing emissions. Results
can also be used in the carbon calculator to demonstrate cost-bene-
fit analyses. The calculator will use current results combined with
project-specific information on the cost of projects and overall
payback time. The calculator can use these results, combined with
information on overall reduction of emissions from a potential
project, to compare the long-term cost of an investment or project
with its immediate benefits, further informing decisions on environ-
mental sustainability policies.
As this is the first GHG emissions inventory performed by a North
Dakota college or university, publishing the methodology, protocol and
recommendations paves the way for other institutions to conduct sim-
ilar inventories of their own emissions and develop their own climate
action plans. UND is part of the North Dakota University System,
so the tools developed specifically here will be made available for
use among the 10 other campuses within the system. Additionally,
the leadership exemplified by UND may encourage these schools to
follow suit. UND is also part of the state government fleet system;
any record keeping or other policies implemented at UND would also
need to be implemented uniformly across the state fleet system. In
this way, the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions data collected
by the students is pervasive, and can be expected to facilitate sus-
tainable policy decisions within UND, the North Dakota University
System and the North Dakota state government.

Acknowledgements
The authors wish to thank Randy Bohlman, Soizik Laguette, and
Rebecca Romsdahl for their guidance in collecting and interpreting
data and for their reviews and comments on this article.

References
i
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[cited 2008 October 30]. Available from: http://www.und.edu/aboutund/
ii
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Bohlman, R. UND electrical use data. October 10, 2008. From personal communication.
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Book Reviews
Michael T. Klare. 2008. Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet : The
New Geopolitics of Energy. New York: Metropolitan Books. 352
pages. ISBN-13 978-0805080643 (hard-back) $26.00; ISBN-13:
9780805089219 (paperback) $16.00.

The study of international relations is concerned with power,


how it is derived, and how it is used on the global stage. In his
most recent book, Michael Klare, author of Resource Wars and a
professor of Peace and World Security Studies at the Five Colleges
consortium in Massachusetts, turns traditional concepts of power
on their head. Military hard power and economic might both shrink
in importance as he describes a new world order where energy is
power—and there’s not enough to go around.
Rising Power, Shrinking Planet focuses on three worri-
some trends: energy demand is rising faster than ever before,
conventional (nonrenewable) energy supplies are nearing a peak
level, and national governments are increasing state and military
intervention to secure these shrinking resources. Klare’s new geopo-
litical world—evoked in urgent, fact-laden, prose—is marred by in-
ternational strife as states struggle for increasingly limited energy.
Skyrocketing demand in China, India, and the rest of the
developing world, paired with an assumption that our ability to
find oil has peaked, has led to strategic state intrusion and caused
the “energy nationalism” that most frightens Klare. His strongest
case study is Russia’s recent power spike under Putin. Putin jailed
and politically overpowered petro-oligarchs to build a nationalized
empire of energy corporations. These moves, utilizing the new power
of energy resources, have increased Russian economic and political
influence and have pushed Russia back into the sphere of legitimate
world players.
Klare believes Putin’s is just one case in a global phenomenon.
Of the fifteen corporations with the largest proven oil reserves,
thirteen are controlled by national governments. Klare doesn’t
ignore Washington in his analysis and reveals our own, increasingly
statist energy policies. His prologue chronicles Congress’s defeat
of a Chinese firm’s attempt to buy the American corporation Unocal
in 2005. This presents a dilemma for advocates of new energy in
the US. Framing energy as a national security issue is effective and
appeals to wide swaths of voters, but entangling energy and secu-
rity can have dangerous destabilizing effects as states vie for limited
resources.
Energy conflicts were historically funneled through political
and business channels, but as pressure and state control increase,
Klare predicts more aggressive energy events. He cites Russia cut-
ting off natural gas to Ukraine in 2006 (which was repeated in early
2009), and Japan and China playing naval chicken over the Chunxiao
gas fields in the East China Sea. Countries are either running an
energy surplus or a deficit, and this new power paradigm creates
a zero-sum game where conflict is inevitable. Implicit in Klare’s
argument is the critical need for renewable energy. There’s no
“peak” in solar power, and utilizing renewable resources creates a
variable-sum world, which subverts the threat of conflict. American
turbines don’t threaten Chinese wind, and in fact, advances in tech-
nology will benefit all users of a particular energy source.
Klare articulates a possible escape route after pummeling
readers with his dark, realist vision. He prescribes a collaborative,
open policy to ease conflict and promote cooperation, especially fo-
cusing on American-Chinese relations. As the world’s largest emit-
ters of CO2 and the principal users of dirty coal, both nations could
benefit from cooperative efforts to ease energy conflict. Klare ar-
gues that collaboration could boost economic growth, speed up tech-
nological advances, and would ease the threat of interstate conflict.
Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet’s strong focus may be Klare’s
greatest weakness because the book flirts with reductionism. In a
world tarnished by religious fundamentalism, nuclear threat, and
economic crisis, is the battle for nonrenewable energy the greatest
threat? Especially after oil prices plummeted, energy seems to shrink
in relative significance.
But the trends which drive Klare’s central argument march on.
Nonrenewables are bound to run out. If we continue to demand
more and more energy, and nations seek to meet their needs with
force and coercion, conflict will be inevitable. Escaping this trap
through alternative energy is necessary to maintaining peace and
stability in international relations. Paired with the menace of global
climate change’s destabilizing effects, policy makers would be wise
to heed Klare’s warnings and attempt to break from the current
dangerous path.

James M. A. Hobbs, Colorado College

63
Tim Flannery. 2007. The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing
the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth. New York: At-
lantic Monthly Press. 384 pages. ISBN-10 0871139359 (hard-back)
$24.00.

Tim Flannery, an environmental advisor to the Australian Federal


Parliament and Professor of Environmental and Life Sciences at
Macquerie University has written a thorough account of the global
plague that is climate change. Both comprehendible and interest-
ing for the non-scientist, The Weather Makers organizes what some
see as a complex scientific mess into a digestible manual for global
warming adherents and dissenters alike.
Flannery’s experiences in the realms of teaching and
environmental sciences blend together harmoniously to provide
readers with a complete and clear understanding of the scientific
and political spheres regarding climate change in the 21st century.
He begins with the Earth’s climactic history, detailing the sig-
nificant shifts in climate patterns since the industrial revolution.
In accordance with this historical outline, Flannery provides an
explicatory yet barely daunting science-based argument for
humanity’s role in changing climates. By catering to individuals
without deep scientific roots, Flannery enlightens the average reader
to the startling, albeit widely accepted scientific theories associated
with this phenomenon.
Referring to the GAIA hypothesis, Flannery shows the read-
er how humans, since the dawn of the industrial revolution, have
significantly changed the Earth’s complex environmental make-up,
how the Earth will respond, and how these changes may very well
affect the equilibrium that we have created between ourselves and
our planet within our lives. While he points out that the future ef-
fects of climate change are largely unclear today, he stresses that
they will severely impede upon the wellbeing of many across the
globe unless strong and swift action is taken.
Despite his gloomy outlook, Flannery emphasizes to readers
that significant changes can be made by everyone from parents to
politicians. From the Kyoto Protocol to our world’s widespread
political apathy to the current status of green technologies,
Flannery supplements the GAIA-based science lesson with an analysis of
proposed solutions, informing readers of almost all significant
currents of the day.
Overall, Flannery has created an intelligible yet detailed
argument that can be understood and utilized by anyone interested
in climate change. From past history, to present day, to our future,
The Weather Makers is a complete scholarly work on climate change,
presented specifically for the non-scientist.
Paul Burger, Michigan State University
65
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