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Next week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finalize new rules to reduce mercury and other toxic air emissions that will affect dozens of antiquated power plants currently operating without pollution controls.

These rules have stirred debate in some circles as to whether retrofitting or retiring outdated plants will cause shortfalls in electricity capacity. How will new EPA mercury rules influence the electricity system? This post updates earlier assessments by taking a close look at recent studies on the reliability of the electricity grid to answer that question.

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The Midwest Industrial Energy Efficiency Summit was held on January 11, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois. It was cosponsored by: World Resources Institute, Midwestern Governors Association, Midwestern Energy Efficiency Alliance, and the Great Plains Institute.

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A new report finds that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has had a positive economic impact on the region. According to the report by the Analysis Group, RGGI, a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program for large power plants in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, has injected $1.6 billion into the region’s economy, and created 16,000 jobs since the program launched in 2009.

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The Aqueduct project is an effort to measure and map water related risks being developed by the World Resources Institute with the support of an alliance founded by General Electric and Goldman Sachs. As part of this effort, the Aqueduct team convened its hydrological modeling partner ISciences and experts from The Coca-Cola Company to develop and analyze a set of maps for the Bonn2011 Nexus conference that illustrate the complex relationships between water, food, and energy worldwide (see below).

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While there has been little progress on national climate policy this year, California has quietly continued to make strides in implementing its comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction program. Last month, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted to finalize the regulations instituting California’s new greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program. This program is one key element of California’s comprehensive program to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act (or AB 32), which was signed into law in 2006 by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Today, WRI releases a new map that identifies the hotspots where urban and suburban development are putting forests at risk in the southern United States. Areas experiencing the most forest loss to development between 2001 and 2006 (the most recent years for which data are available) were counties near Houston, Atlanta, Raleigh, and Charlotte. Counties around San Antonio, Jacksonville, and Birmingham round out the “top ten” (Table 1).

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The Open Climate Network recently concluded a three-day workshop in which participants from 18 organizations in 13 countries gathered to refine methodologies for the network’s first national assessment report, expected next year. The report will analyze country progress on climate change commitments, with a view towards “ground-truthing” countries’ performance on implementing effective policies that contribute to the low-carbon transition.

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This statement from the director of the Texas Forest Service makes it clear that the recent wildfires that scorched Texas belong in a new category of disaster. Already, the state’s wildfires this season have consumed 3.6 million acres (an area the size of Connecticut), swallowed over 1,500 homes, and killed at least four people. According to NOAA, the current wildfire is costing more than $1 million per day and exceeds $5 billion in overall damages across the Southwest. These are costs that will be borne by government, business and residents, alike.

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2011 was the summer of extreme weather— from the massive drought in the Southwest to record-breaking heat waves to Hurricane Irene’s torrential rains. Each of these events serves as a stark reminder of the growing impacts of climate change. Even so, the main recent discussion around climate change comes from Republican presidential candidates who have been debating the issue. Notably, Jon Huntsman recently Tweeted that he trusts scientists on global warming, adding “Call me crazy”– an invitation surely welcomed by some of his competitors.

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WRI’s new issue brief, “Gaining Ground: Increasing Conservation Easements in the U.S. South,” released today jointly with the American Forest Foundation, aims to increase the use of conservation easements in the South by helping landowners, conservation professionals, and conservation funders understand the unique benefits that conservation easements provide, key barriers to their implementation, and how to best address those barriers.

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While the potential role of ‘green jobs’ is hotly debated, many participants in this debate are talking past one another – starting from different assumptions and definitions, working from different datasets, or hailing from opposite ideological viewpoints on the “true” costs of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions. A review of the literature provides evidence that clean energy policies and investments can help create job opportunities and competitive gains for the economy. These findings should heighten the demand for policies and investments that hasten a shift to a low-carbon economy and the creation of more clean-energy jobs.

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The California Air Resources Board (CARB) staff is holding a workshop today on additional details that were recently announced for California’s cap-and-trade program. These details on allowance allocation, reporting, verification, and other aspects of the program, and the recent announcement on the program’s timing by CARB Chairman Mary Nichols are important, since they show that California is taking the time needed to get it right.

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