Monday, 22 April 2013

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  On this day, I feel very fortunate to be part of our community of Green Drinks where I have met so many great people who all value our natural environment.
So we are meeting again on May 29th at 7 pm.  Bitters worked so well last time that we meet there again!

About my project

At the last Green Drinks, I described my effort with a friend to use the White House petition system to petition the administration to create a national feed-in tariff which would prompt nationwide growth in renewable energy.

What attracted me to the White House petition system was that petitioners were guaranteed an official response from the administration if their petition met a certain threshold (now, 100,000) in 30 days (not much time).  In at least one case, President Obama has even responded directly.  Unlike other on-line petitions which seem to go nowhere, the White House petitions offered people a tremendous lever on power, and I thought we should use that lever to effect some environmental policy.  However, given the absolute gridlock in Congress, I thought petitioning for new legislation was an absolutely futile gesture.  I thought it was imperative to petition for a policy that falls solely within control of the executive branch.  In other words, a policy that President Obama could implement without getting passage from Congress.

So I started asking around, and my friend found this article Beyond Carbon Policy.  The article described using the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which allegedly is under the President's control, to create feed-in tariffs.  Worldwide, feed-in tariffs are the single most effective policy for the spread of renewable energy.

With this policy idea, we were off--drafting and revising our petition and strategizing on a campaign to get 100,000 signatures in 30 days.  The White House site really limited text of the petitions, allowing only 920 characters, which was a serious limitation just for introducing the topic of feed-in tariffs, let alone making a case for the policy.  Nevertheless, I was very pleased with the petition we produced.  You can see a later version of it here

With our petition complete, we moved on to the vetting stage, first sharing the petition with Christopher Nelder, the author of "Beyond Carbon Policy."  And that's where things went south.  Nelder informed us that since the publication of the article he had heard from two separate FERC-law experts.  Both of them told him that his policy idea was not possible for several reasons.

Naturally, I was disappointed.  I was all geared up for an exciting (though laborious) campaign for this petition.  (To that end, I'm still set to be a guest on the podcast Professor Blastoff to discuss renewable energy.)  My friend wanted to continue.  But if the policy idea wasn't sound, I saw little point in continuing.  Afterall, my motive was to actually effect a change, not just engage in some on-line activity.  (I do enough of that already.)  And more importantly, I did not feel like I could ask others to get involved (as I would have inevitably done) in an activity that I knew was for naught.

So now the petition idea is shelved until we find some un-used executve authority for improving the environment.  I contacted both of the FERC-law experts for a suggestion.  I tweeted Al Gore, too.  But none of them have replied.  (Thanks, y'all.) 

So that's the unfortunate state of my petition idea.  It wasn't successful, though I did learn a lot about FERC and feed-in tariffs.  That's useful information for a renewable energy professional, though probably not for a cocktail party.