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Category: Energy: renewables and efficiency

Sen. Barbara Boxer seeks climate-change action from summit

Sen. Barbara Boxer at climate change summit

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) stepped up Wednesday to deliver an appeal from Capitol Hill for action at the mostly lackluster U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which wraps up this week in Durban, South Africa. Her speech was delivered to an almost-empty Senate TV/radio gallery, which is indicative of the low priority given ongoing greenhouse gas treaty negotiations by the federal government and the media.

Audience shortfall be damned, Boxer soldiered on, registering her support for urgent action in Durban and beyond, and attacking climate deniers who have slowed progress toward reform. She and 15 other senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looking for a “strong and ambitious outcome” in Durban.

“Although I am not there with you in person, it in no way lessens my commitment to the work that you are doing in Durban and the importance of your mission to address climate change,” Boxer said. A text of the speech was also provided to the media.

“This massive threat to the environment and human health that is posed by climate change requires us to put aside partisan differences, to find common ground and to demand immediate international action.”

The speech was delivered against a backdrop of years of failed attempts by Congress to pass meaningful legislation that would curb greenhouse gas emissions, or to even set targets for those reductions. The comments addressed directly the United States’ refusal to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which did set reduction targets and which is regarded as a failure of leadership on the part of the U.S., especially in Europe. Key provisions of the Kyoto treaty will expire in 2012 without further action.

Boxer had two main points in her presentation: one, that climate change is already costing us huge money, and two, that global-warming deniers are endangering lives.

On the first point, she cited National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studies that have tracked the cost of large storms and found that from January to August 2011, 10 or more weather disasters caused over $1 billion in damages — a record — and that the country is plagued by widespread drought and wildfires.

She also cited a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists tagging the public health consequences of increased ozone pollution caused by higher temperatures by the year 2020, including: $5.4 billion in increased health costs, 2.8 million more acute respiratory symptoms, and several other startling figures.

Boxer seemed to save particular ire for global-warming deniers, however, saying, “The message I have for climate deniers is this: You are endangering humankind.”

To punch this home, she quoted a Pentagon study saying climate change was real and would have serious impacts on defense, diplomacy and economics.

“It is time for climate deniers to face reality, because the body of evidence is overwhelming and the world’s leading scientists agree,” Boxer said.

The Durban conference ends Friday.

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— Dean Kuipers

Photo: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in the Senate TV/radio room calling for ambitious and credible action at the U.N. climate change conference that ends this week in Durban, South Africa. Credit: U.S. Senate Photo Studio.

NPR reports Kyoto Protocol in trouble in Durban

UN climate talks in Durban
You may have noticed that news coverage of the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, has been minimal, at best, and that’s clearly because -– just like in Copenhagen last year -– there has been almost no mention of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was put in place to set reduction targets for important greenhouse gases. Without a big, juicy target, the conference lacks the drama to merit mention on even the eco-blogs.

Key aspects of the Kyoto treaty expire in 2012, and NPR boldly goes where no one else seems to want to tread, addressing the more-than-hypothetical: What if Kyoto elapses and nothing happens?

Answer? We’re in trouble. As noted in previous posts on this blog, international treaties have been effective in dealing with global issues like the hole in the ozone layer (Montreal Protocol). More important, without the Kyoto treaty, or something like it, the 192 nations attending the conference don’t really have a framework for setting emission-reduction targets or tackling this in any global way.

The U.S. is still not a signatory to the Kyoto treaty, and China, now the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, wasn’t even covered by it, since it was treated as a “developing” nation.

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UN Durban climate conference wrangles over funds for poor countries

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-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Head of the Polish delegation Tomasz Chruszczow, left, and European Union Climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzenger speaks during a news conference at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. Almost 200 nations began global climate talks on Monday with time running out to save the Kyoto Protocol. Credit: Rogan Ward/Reuters.

U.N. Durban climate conference wrangles over funds for poor nations

Durbanbike600
DURBAN, South Africa — International climate negotiators were at odds Tuesday on how to raise billions of dollars to help poor countries cope with global warming. A major shipping group is willing to help, endorsing a proposal for a carbon tax on vessels carrying the world's trade.

Details of the tussle over the funding emerged as the U.N.’s weather agency reported that 2011 was tied as the 10th-hottest year since record-keeping began in 1850. Arctic sea ice, a barometer for the entire planet, had shrunk to a record-low volume, said the World Meteorological Organization.

Putting the final touches on what's known as the Green Climate Fund is a top issue at the 192-party U.N. climate conference that was in its second day Tuesday in the South African coastal city of Durban, and one of the keys to a strategy to contain greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming within manageable limits.

The two-week conference is to finalize a plan on managing climate finances, due to scale up to $100 billion annually by 2020.

The International Chamber of Shipping, representing about 80% of the world's merchant marine, joined forces with aid groups Oxfam and WWF International on Tuesday to urge the conference to adopt guidelines for a levy on carbon emissions by ships.

Details of any levy would be worked out by the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. agency regulating international shipping, the aid groups and the chamber said in a joint statement.

“Shipping has to take responsibility for the emissions and get to grips and drive them down, and they see that the best way to do that is to have a universal charge applied to all ships that is going to generate billions of dollars” to fight climate change, Tim Gore of Oxfam said on the sidelines of the conference.

About 50,000 cargo ships carry 90% of world trade, and most ships are powered by heavily polluting oil known as bunker fuels. Last July the U.N. maritime organization decided that new cargo vessels must meet energy-efficiency standards and cut pollution.

It was the first climate change measure to apply equally to countries regardless of whether they are from the industrialized or developing world.

At the conference, differences came into focus over the Green Climate Fund.

Delegations disagreed about how independent the fund will be, by whom it will be guided and whether the bulk of the money will come from public funds and government aid or from private sources and investments.

A 40-nation committee worked on a draft agreement in several lengthy meetings over the last year, but a consensus at the final meeting last month was blocked by objections from the United States and Saudi Arabia. Now negotiators in Durban must settle the final disputes.

“We are going to have a very thorough and open discussion on that very contentious paper,” said Pedro Pedroso, the delegate from Cuba.

U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing said Monday that the U.S. has “substantive concerns” about the committee's plan, but “we believe these issues can be fixed.”

Washington wants to ensure that private investments are not hamstrung by bureaucracy and that they can bypass any approval process by governments.

The world temperatures report released Tuesday provided a bleak backdrop to negotiators seeking ways to limit pollution blamed for global warming.

2011 has been a year of extreme weather, the WMO reported. Drought in East Africa has left tens of thousands dead; lethal floods submerged large areas of Asia; the United States suffered 14 separate weather catastrophes with damage topping $1 billion each, including severe drought in Texas and the Southwest, heavy floods in the Northeast and the Mississippi Valley, and the most active tornado season ever known.

“The science is solid and proves unequivocally that the world is warming,” said R.D.J. Lengoasa, the WMO's deputy director, and human activity is a significant contributor.

“Climate change is real, and we are already observing its manifestations in weather and climate patterns around the world,” he said.

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-- Associated Press

Photo: Cyclists power lights on an installation depicting a Baobab tree, part of a renewable-energies display during the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2011 in Durban, South Africa. Credit: Nic Bothma/EPA

'Entourage’s' Adrian Grenier and Peter Glatzer SHFT Hollywood green

GrenierGlatzerjpg

When "Entourage" star Adrian Grenier was introduced to indie film producer Peter Glatzer a number of years back, their mutual commitment to eco-friendliness and sustainability compelled them to work together. They put together the show “Alter Eco” for Discovery’s Planet Green channel in 2008, a reality show about folks moving the needle on sustainability. The pair saw a hunger for solutions, but realized they needed a new platform that could grow as they grew. SHFT was born.

Yes, SHFT.com is a website, but Grenier and Glatzer have already proved it can be more than that. It’s an honest attempt to move ideas into the culture. The “Watch” section has five original video series that continue to expand, including the “Eat LACMA” series on food and community, and “Lighten Up,” about green touring strategies for bands on the road. Like “Alter Eco,” the shows are about beautiful people making a difference. But the site is also a pretty impressive resource for sustainable products as varied as electronics and art, and a connection to lifestyle news and information.

SHFT is creating an entity that’s pretty rare for famous Hollywood types: a community.

“We’re looking to permeate the culture and change the perception of what it means to be environmentally friendly,” Grenier says by phone from New York. “Because, for so long, it’s been a marginalized cause. But we don’t see it as a cause. We see it as a way to improve your quality of life.”

Glatzer, speaking from L.A., takes it further: “The notion of ‘environmentalism’ was just antiquated and anachronistic to the world we live in now. To think of environmentalism as a movement or a separate category of things that we do that are Earth-friendly is not the way to think about it. It has to be folded into the fabric of our lives and into the small choices that we make every day.”

In October, the site manifested briefly as a pop-up gallery and shop on La Brea Avenue, something the pair has been doing in New York for years at Christmastime, and the opening was packed with people pawing over the bikes, art, furniture and housewares. The products on the website are made real at these events, and SHFT may soon develop a bricks-and-mortar entity in partnership with a mainstream retailer.

Mainstream, by the way, is where they want to be. These are people who make movies and TV, so of course the first thing they did was make a show. And they are still making shows. But “Alter Eco” confirmed that Hollywood is mostly allergic to this kind of thing, and for good reason: do-gooding is not (usually) hot media.

“Media is very tricky because it thrives on conflict,” Grenier acknowledges. “Really, the environmental notion is the opposite -- it’s something that is full or harmony and goodwill amongst people and collaboration, so it’s difficult to dramatize.”

Glatzer thinks the ideas just have to be worked into the groundwork of everything they make. “I watch movies all the time, like ‘The Descendents,’ for example, Alexander Payne’s new film. It really does have an environmental component to it that isn’t overt at all. It’s an appropriate dollop of environmentalism,” he says.

“If it’s a background, context-setting thing, great, but otherwise, I don’t know,” Glatzer adds.

None of this, by the way, is overtly political. They’re looking to change the culture through everyday choices.

“We like market-driven solutions,” says Glatzer. “As much as we’d love to see policies change and see the public sector do various things that we’re actually quite passionate about, having consumers be aware of what their options were was one of our big goals. And to make it fun.”

“Yeah, I found that my snarky, condescending glances at people, when I walked around the set, were totally ineffective,” chuckles Grenier. “I find that being able to take someone by the shoulders and say, ‘Hey, check out SHFT,’ or ‘Do you want to come to this pop-up store?’ is much more enjoyable for the both of us.”

Speaking of which, their first SHFT brand product? A red wine made in Paso Robles, SHFT House Wines. Because, yeah, it’s organic and all that; but it’s also a party in a bottle. Available on the site in the coming weeks.

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-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Adrian Grenier, left, and Peter Glatzer at the opening of the SHFT pop-up gallery and shop on La Brea Avenue in October. Credit: Brent Harrison for Guest of a Guest L.A.

Doug Brinkley, Rep. Don Young squabble over Arctic refuge

Musk ox in the Arctic refuge
Famed biographer Doug Brinkley has written exhaustively on the history of Alaskan wilderness, but Alaskan Rep. Don Young was having none of it recently when it came to the issue of drilling for oil at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The two men clashed bitterly last Friday as Brinkley, a professor at Rice University and the author most recently of “The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom 1979-1960,” testified at a House Natural Resources Committee meeting regarding the effects of drilling in the refuge. Young interrupted Brinkley’s testimony, calling him “Dr. Rice” and saying his testimony was “garbage.”

“Dr. Brinkley. Rice is a university,” Brinkley shot back. “I know you went to Yuba College and you couldn't graduate.”

Young, getting visibly upset, retorted: “I'll call you anything I want to call you when you sit in that chair. You just be quiet.”

"You don't own me," Brinkley said. "I pay your salary.”

Young sat through the testimony of several environmentalists at the panel, and when he got his chance to speak he noted in another YouTube clip featured on his congressional website that the Alaskan acreage they were talking about “is not the pristine area with wolves laying next to caribou, it’ll be a cold day in Saudi Arabia when that happens,” and added: “We’ve heard from environmentalists, and I understand their beliefs, but they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

After the exchange, he said he was “pissed” about Brinkley’s comments.

Brinkley got the last word when he expressed his surprise to “hear a congressman today say there’s nothing in his district. It’s boring. It’s flat. It’s not exciting. I don’t know a representative who doesn’t love their district. Every state in America’s landscape is beautiful if you love it. But some people love money more than their homeland or where they live, and I’m afraid that that’s why this fight has to keep coming up 50 years later, we’re still trying to tell people the Arctic refuge is real. It belongs to the American people.”

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-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Musk ox move across an area of coastal plain inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that could be considered for oil exploration in Alaska. Credit: Associated Press/Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Greenhouse gases, water vapor and you

Vaporgirl600
Several readers pointed out an omission in last week’s post about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s release of its Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, which showed that man-made gases that contribute to global warming continued a steady rise. The post -– and the AGGI –- mentioned carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases, but failed to mention the biggest contributor to global warming: plain old water vapor.

“I want to comment that the way-dominant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is not mentioned, namely water vapor,” writes Ken Saunders of Pacific Palisades. “Water vapor accounts for about 97 percent of the total (natural plus man-emitted) greenhouse warming of the planet. See, e.g., John Houghton's ‘The Physics of Atmospheres, 3rd edition,’ Cambridge University Press, 2002.”

This is true, water vapor is the major player in the greenhouse effect and is often omitted from reports and reporting about global warming -– mostly because it is more of a symptom than a cause in global climate change, and cannot be easily mitigated.

Tom Boden, director of the U.S. Energy Department’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, acknowledges in an email: “Folks are right when they state water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas and not routinely measured directly in the atmosphere. Atmospheric water vapor is difficult to measure, highly reactive, and variable in amount due to meteorological conditions (i.e., atmospheric water vapor is continuously being generated from evaporation and continuously removed by condensation).”

“Water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas and natural levels of [carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide] are also crucial to creating a habitable planet,” writes John Reilly, professor at MIT and co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Center for Environmental Policy Research, in an email.

That idea leads many to believe that global warming is natural and cannot be affected much by human activity. Reader Roy W. Rising of Valley Village writes: “Today's report focuses on a bundle of gases that comprise a very small part of total of ‘greenhouse’ gases. It totally disregards the long-known fact that about 95% of all ‘greenhouse’ gases is WATER VAPOR! Spending billions of dollars to alter a few components of the 5% won't affect the natural course of climate change.” 

Reilly warns, however, that scientists don’t blame water vapor or clouds for global warming.

“Concerns about global warming are about how human beings are altering the radiative balance,” says Reilly. “While some of the things we do change water vapor directly, they are insignificant. Increasing ghg's [greenhouse gases] through warming will increase water vapor and that is a big positive feedback [meaning: the more greenhouse gases, the more water vapor, the higher the temperature]. But the root cause are ghg's. So in talking about what is changing the climate, changes in water vapor are not a root cause.”

Water vapor is, however, included in modeling used to study global warming. Boden adds: “We do measure water vapor fluxes routinely at the Earth's surface in terrestrial systems. All climate models account for water vapor in the processes of evaporation, condensation and transpiration. Since water vapor is naturally occurring and mostly driven by natural processes it would be difficult to mitigate (e.g., cap on a lake) and thus does not enter into reduction discussions.”

So, when NOAA’s Jim Butler confirmed in our previous post that carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, and two CFCs cause 95% of global warming, he meant that these five gases are at the root of a complex reaction that also involves water vapor and any number of other factors. The fact that you and I are responsible for generating a bunch of those man-made gases makes them the five to watch.

Thanks for placing your comments on the blog.

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-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Britney Waugh stands in Fogscreen, an exhibit at WIRED NextFest 2007 in which pictures are projected onto a vapor "screen" that is dry to the touch. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times.

Obama pipeline decision courts youth vote

YouthXL
When President Obama announced Thursday that he was delaying a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline for at least a year, it was partly the result of significant youth lobbying, says Courtney Hight, 32, co-director of the Energy Action Coalition.

The action also may have re-energized a 30s-and-under youth vote that was drifting away from his campaign.

“We are the generation that elected Barack Obama,” said Hight, formerly a staffer with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Most of the organizers on the [Obama] campaign were under 30, and believed in this vision that President Obama put out. We were a little frustrated by not seeing the leadership on climate change that we wanted. So the XL Pipeline issue was an opportunity.

“He had been risking young people’s votes, and he showed us that he cares about our vote,” she added. “A lot of us are reinvigorated by the fact that he delayed this pipeline, which essentially kills it.”

A protest action on Sunday, Nov. 6, may have been the game-changer on the Keystone Pipeline decision. That day, about 12,000 people formed concentric rings around the White House to express their outrage over the environmental effectsof the project. Those people, says Hight, were organized by youth organizers from the EAC, the climate change group 350.org and Tar Sands Action, which focuses resistance to the development of the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada, where oil for the pipeline originates. Rather than be described as a protest, the action was seen as giving support to Obama, to show him physically by surrounding his house that he had the political backing to say no to this project. Heavy lifting was also done by mainstream groups the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, but the youthswere kept out front.

The EAC is a national coalition of about 50 youth environmental organizations, including the Sierra Student Coalition (the youth arm of the Sierra Club) and many other statewide student groups.

Over the summer, the EAC and many of these groups considered the pipeline a done deal -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said as much -- but students realized that this was one decision the president could make without congressional approval because it was being handled at the State Department. Groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network in South Dakota had been fighting an existing version of the pipeline (it extends into the Dakotas already) for more than four years.

So, in August, students gathered at the White House to express their disapproval, and 1,253 of them were arrested. Hight’s friends inside the White House acknowledged to her that the issue hadn’t really been on the president’s radar until that point. So she and others dug in.

Students in Missouri raised money and bought tickets to Obama campaign fundraisers, at which they asked pointed questions about the pipeline and the tar sands. Soon, students were dogging the campaign, asking questions at Obama for America offices, campaign events, fundraisers and debates. Then, the big action on Sunday.

“I haven’t seen this level of youth involvement in the movement since the Obama campaign,” said Hight. “We’re not done, but we had a win.”

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-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Youth demonstrators are prominent among the 12,000 demonstrators against the Keystone XL Pipeline project who surrounded the White House on Nov.6, 2011. Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood/tarsandsaction.org

Hewlett-Packard tops Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics

GreenpaceGreenElectronicsGuideHewlett-Packard Co. has claimed the No. 1 spot on the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics released Wednesday. The Palo Alto-based manufacturer of printers, computers and other consumer electronics scored 5.9 out of a possible 10 points on the 17th iteration of the guide from the international environmental organization.

Hewlett-Packard took the No. 1 position due largely to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from its own operations as well as its suppliers, and a procurement policy that excludes paper from companies linked with illegal logging and deforestation. Computer maker Dell Inc., based in Round Rock, Texas, took second place, and also scored well for its greenhouse gas emission reductions and paper policies. 

Nokia Corp., the world's largest manufacturer of cellphones, based in Finland, fell to third place from the No. 1 ranking it held for more than three years. According to the guide, Nokia reduced its carbon emissions only 18% in 2010 -- far short of its 50% goal.

Apple Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., was ranked fourth, winning maximum points for e-waste and sourcing  minerals from countries that do not trade with insurgent rebel groups. In 2010, 70% of Apple's personal electronics products were recycled. It also scored well for creating products that are free of polyvinyl chloride and brominated fire retardants.

Research In Motion, the maker of BlackBerry smartphones, scored last out of the 15 companies included in the guide. According to Greenpeace, the company does not have a clean electricity plan or a target to increase use of renewable energy. Its products are also energy inefficient, the guide said.

All of the consumer electronics companies Greenpeace researched were ranked in three general categories -- energy, green products and sustainable operations -- each of which was broken down according to more detailed criteria such as clean-energy advocacy, product energy efficiency, avoidance of hazardous substances and use of recycled materials. The information reported in the guide is publicly available and provided by the companies.

"When people say they want green electronics, these are the things they care about," said Casey Harrell, a Greenpeace information technology analyst and co-author of the guide. "They want the products to be as energy efficient as possible. They want them to be recycled and not go overseas. They don't want to be contributing to conflict."

The current guide is the first in which Greenpeace has incorporated companies' paper policies and use of so-called conflict minerals that often come from countries in conflict.

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Photo: Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics rating. Credit: Greenpeace

California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

Oil refinery
The California Air Resources Board, after three years of contentious debate, on Thursday approved the nation's first state-run cap-and-trade program, which will for the first time put a price on carbon emissions.

The unanimous vote paves the way for the carbon trading market, which begins in 2013 and will eventually require 85% of the state's largest polluters to either emit less carbon or purchase credits on a market that the air board will regulate.   

The market is projected to exchange about $10 billion in carbon allowances by 2016, which would make it second largest in the world behind the European Union.

The program is part of AB 23, the state's 2006 climate change law that mandates a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Said board Chairwoman Mary Nichols: "We've done something important."

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--Julie Cart

Photo: Valero Energy's Wilmington refinery in a 2010 photo.  Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

California falls behind Massachusetts in energy efficiency

EnergyStarapplianceCalifornia has fallen behind Massachusetts as the country's most energy-efficient state, according to the 2011 Energy Scorecard released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy on Thursday. California had ranked first for each of the previous four years' scorecards.

While California and Massachusetts have both effectively implemented demand-side management plans, "Massachusetts regulators have sent a very consistent message that they want to ramp up their energy-efficiency programs. California has been staying even, and Massachusetts has been flooring it," said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Part of Massachusetts' energy efficiency increase is due to long-term investment. In 2009, the state spent $61 per customer to improve energy efficiency, compared with $32 per customer in California, Nadel said. That investment is now paying off. In 2012, Massachusetts will reduce its electricity demand 2.4%, the report said, whereas California demand will decline by 1%.

The 2011 scorecard reported that 29 states had adopted or made significant progress toward adopting new energy-saving building codes for homes and commercial properties; just 20 states had done so in 2010. It also found that 24 states had adopted an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, setting long-term energy savings targets for utility-sector investments in energy efficiency.

"More and more states recognize that energy efficiency is a way to reduce costs," Nadel said. "You reduce energy bills, but energy efficiency is less expensive than new power plants." 

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Photo: A man looks at an Energy Star appliance. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times

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