A July 21, 2010 memo by John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology and Peter Orzag, director of the Office of Management and the Budget, said that $450 billion, or about three percent of the nation’s GDP, would be spent by public and private sources for research and development with a priority on “solar energy, next-generation biofuels, and sustainable green buildings and building retrofit technologies.”

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Cybercast News Service (CNS) obtained a copy of the memo, which was directed to all executive branch heads of departments and agencies in developing budget priorities. The communication also demands that “understanding, adapting to and mitigating the impacts of global climate change” be a budget priority, as well as insisting that agencies should

prioritize research for measuring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas emissions. Support, within coordinated interagency investments in the U.S. Global Change Research Program, an integrated and continuing National Climate Assessment of climate change science, impacts, vulnerabilities, and response strategies, including mitigation and adaptation.…

Agencies should pursue transformational solutions to the Nation’s practical challenges, and budget submission should therefore explain how agencies will support long-term, visionary thinkers proposing high-risk, high-return (or "potentially transformative") research.

With the discovery of huge oil fields off the coast of Brazil in the fall of 2007 came estimates of just what impact they would have on Brazil’s already booming economy. Prior to the discovery of “pre-salt” reserves estimated to be the size of Florida and in excess of 120 billion barrels, Brazil’s economy was already considered to be the 7th largest in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the CIA.

But as the resources are developed, to many observers Brazil is a cinch to take over 6th place by replacing Great Britain in the size of its economy. It’s economy in 2004 was one-third that of Great Britain’s but by 2007 it had grown to half. With the great recession costing the United Kingdom 20 percent of its GDP between 2007 and 2010, and Brazil’s continuing to grow apace by nearly 52 percent, the IMF now estimates that Brazil will take over 6th place by the end of this year.

The technological challenges facing Petrobas, Brazil’s main oil producer, are immense. In order to reach the oil, it will have to drill through four miles of ocean and rocks and a thick layer of salt. And then retrieving it and turning it into a profitable revenue stream will be the next challenge. Brazil’s politicians are already calling it “the pot of gold at the bottom of the ocean” and are considering how the revenues might be used to further the government’s endless list of priorities.

The September 15 report from the National Petroleum Council expressed surprise at how much has changed just since their “Hard Truths” report of 2007 that domestic energy development was falling behind escalating demand.  The “Hard Truths” report stated that although “the world is not running out of energy resources … there are accumulating risks to continuing expansion of oil and natural gas production … [which] create significant challenges to meeting projected total energy demand.” As a result, the concept of “Energy Independence” is “not realistic in the foreseeable future” and therefore “the United States must moderate the growing demand for energy.”

In NPC’s letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu introducing the latest study, chairman James Hackett said

Extraordinary events have affected energy markets in the years since the NPC reported on the “Hard Truths” about energy in 2007. That study concluded that the world would need increased energy efficiency and all economic forms of energy supply.

This is still true today, but since then, significant technology advances have unlocked abundant natural gas and oil resources. These greatly expanded resources have already benefited our country economically. Increased supplies of natural gas have resulted in lower prices and helped revitalize many U.S. industries.

Writing in the Washington Post on Friday, Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (which was adapted into a mini-series by PBS in 1992) explored the shift of oil’s epicenter from the Middle East to the Western Hemisphere, expressing his surprise that “what appeared to be irreversible is being reversed.” He explains:

The new energy axis runs from Alberta, Canada, down through North Dakota and South Texas, past a major new discovery off the coast of French Guyana to huge offshore deposits found off Brazil.

The transformation is happening not as part of some grand design or major policy effort, but almost accidentally. This shift was not planned — it is a product of a series of unrelated initiatives and technological breakthroughs  that, together, are taking on a decidedly hemispheric cast.

The virtual explosion in oil extraction taking place in North Dakota is detailed here with records of oil production through the technology of fracking being set every month. The oil sands in Canada are so vast that the present production of 1.5 million barrels per day could double by the year 2020, making Canada the fifth largest producer of oil behind Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and China. And the “pre-salt” resources just discovered offshore in Brazil through advances in reading seismic signals indicate that Brazil’s potential oil reserves are so large that that country could be exporting 5 million barrels of oil daily by 2020.

As an investigation unfolds over a controversial U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program, another "green" loan recipient lingers at the brink of financial collapse. Massachusetts energy firm Beacon Power Corporation, which develops "flywheel-based" energy storage systems, filed for bankruptcy Sunday after receiving a $43 million Energy Department loan guarantee in August 2010 — only months after taxpayers were put on the hook for a $535 million loan guarantee granted to the now-defunct solar energy company Solyndra.

Beacon Power’s bankruptcy filing arrived just two days after the White House ordered a 60-day "independent analysis" of the DOE’s loan program, where officials will evaluate and improve the monitoring process to "ensure" that government leaders are being "strong stewards of taxpayer dollars."

In August 2010, the Treasury Department’s Federal Financing Bank awarded Beacon Power the loan guarantee to finance a new energy storage plant in Stephentown, New York. But the company claims a run of bad fortune has burdened its financial standing, especially after it was delisted by the Nasdaq following an 80-percent plunge in its shares this year. "The current economic and political climate, the financing terms mandated by DOE, and Beacon’s recent delisting notice from Nasdaq have together severely restricted Beacon’s access to additional investments through the equity markets," CEO F. William Capp alleged in papers filed during Sunday’s bankruptcy proceedings.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is probing a $730 million conditional loan commitment to Severstal, a Russian company operating mainly in the steel and mining industry. Writing to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the California Congressman questioned whether Severstal North America, a subsidiary of the powerhouse Russian manufacturer, should benefit from public financing to improve and expand facilities in Dearborn, Michigan.

The North American division of the company has struggled to penetrate the U.S. steel market, and it sold three of its U.S. mills in March. Consequently, Severstal North America received a conditional loan approval from the U.S. Energy Department in July to help retool and expand its factory in Dearborn.

Severstal is owned and controlled by Alexei Mordashov, who is worth $18.5 billion and is one of the wealthiest people in the world, according to Forbes magazine. In Issa’s letter, he asked Secretary Chu why taxpayer money is needed when "announcements made by Severstal during the loan consideration process indicated that the company had ample means to carry out the project."

Researchers claim to have discovered vast untapped oceans of geothermal energy they say could replace coal and other so-called fossil fuels as primary U.S. energy sources.

With funding from Google's philanthropic division, Google.org, the Geothermal Laboratory at Southern Methodist University (SMU) recently completed a study on geothermal potential in the continental United States. The grant money enabled SMU to include "tens of thousands of new thermal data points" to construct the most accurate subterranean heat flow map to date. SMU scientists estimate U.S. potential at nearly three million megawatts of power, an amount more than adequate to supply current domestic electricity needs.

Unleashing geothermal energy requires drilling several miles beneath the Earth's surface to unlock heat trapped in the crust. Well operators inject water in a continuous loop into fractures formed by the drilling process. As the water heats up, it is piped back to the surface where the steam drives an electricity-generating turbine. Google.com quotes Secretary of Energy Steven Chu extolling the virtues of geothermal as a reliable form of energy because "the earth is going to be hot. You can bank on it, [so] you can consider the energy source effectively in unlimited supply."

Almost eight months after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami struck Japan, killing or injuring more than 25,000, the death toll from radiation exposure at Japan's storm-ravaged Fukushima Daiiche nuclear power plant stands at zero. Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, admitted as much on Monday in Washington during a roundtable discussion entitled "Fukushima: Lessons Learned," an event sponsored by Georgetown University and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

When a reporter from CNSNews.com asked him about radiation exposure deaths, Jaczko first jokingly tried to pass the question off to another panel expert but then acknowledged, "There have been no fatalities that we're aware of that are directly related to radiation exposure." He went on to explain that some workers received abnormally high levels of radiation after the disaster both at the plant and through contact with contaminated water, but "nothing that is going to lead to an immediate loss of life."

These results prove what experts have predicted since the quake and tidal wave hit Japan's Pacific coast in March: No one would die from radiation as a result of the incident.

California has enacted the nation’s first cap-and-trade program, designed to provide financial incentives to companies to help curb greenhouse-gas emissions. After an exhausting eight-hour meeting last Thursday with union leaders, industry representatives, and various supporters and opponents of the plan, the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to implement the first state-administered system that would stick a price tag on carbon emissions and permit the state’s industries to trade carbon credits. The plan is an integral component of the state’s ambitious 2006 global-warming law, signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, which looks to slash emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The new air regulations will commence in 2013, and then only for the state’s largest carbon emission entities, typically electrical utility companies and large industrial plants; the program will expand in 2015 to include 85 percent of "pollution" emitters. The plan will first institute a cap on emissions, and then allow businesses that are under their carbon limit to sell their excesses to companies that have exceeded their carbon allowance. Businesses will have an initial requirement to pay 10 percent of their credits, and they will be able to purchase carbon offsets, which will comprise emission containment projects such as investments in forestry, to comply with eight percent of their annual emission obligations.

State officials expect other state and federal officials to observe the California model, hoping that similar programs — or, as they would prefer, a national program — will be employed throughout the country. "When Washington considers how to address climate change, as I think it will, California’s climate plan will serve as a role model for the national program," asserted Stanley Young, the board’s spokesman.

At a news conference in Washington yesterday, a group of U.S. solar panel makers accused China of dumping Chinese-made solar panels on the U.S. market and asked the government for protection by raising tariffs on the offenders.  Executives from SolarWorld, which makes its panels in Oregon, were at the conference along with both Oregon Senators.

Said SolarWorld President Gordon Brinser, his company “can compete with anyone in the world [but] illegal subsidies in China [are allowing] the Chinese solar industry to come in and gut and own the U.S. solar industry.” Because the alleged dumping has caused prices to decline, it has put several panel makers into financial difficulty, and was a proximate cause of the disintegration of Solyndra. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) claimed that because of the dumping of panels at below-market prices, “the American solar industry has been collapsing.” Part of the reason is that the Chinese government has been extending low-interest loans to Chinese panel makers, which Wyden called “cheating,” thus allowing them to offer panels for sale below the production costs of U.S. makers.

The group wants the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission to impose a duty on all panels imported from China sufficient to bring the price back up to where the U.S. makers can be competitive, and profitable, again.

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