A little good environmental news

ImageNothing will come of the Cancun climate talks, pundits predict, and the Republican-led Congress is poised to do exactly nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And yet two tiny nuggets of news suggest that we might see some environmental progress yet.

Senators of both parties wrote a letter to that chamber's leadership supporting environmentalists' demand to stop subsidizing ethanol. Refining incentives go to major oil companies, who hardly need or deserve the help. Agricultural subsidies, meanwhile, have driven up the price of corn worldwide, increasing the number of hungry bellies. Environmentally, ethanol is not much better than fossil fuel because so much fossil fuel is used in its production. Some studies suggest ethanol is actually worse for air quality.

Not glamorous, but a start. And 26 Democratic Senators — and Republican George LeMieux (Fla.) — are pushing for the continuation of a grants program for renewable energy projects. Many economists, venture capitalists and industry insiders agree with Energy Secretary Steven Chu's recent claim that the renewable energy industry will live or die by government incentive programs. And whether or not the United States moves aggressively into greener energy, China is already doing it, so failure to develop cleantech know-how will simply increase our trade debt and the diplomatic hamstringing that accompanies it.

What's more, the greener parts of the stimulus bill were those that saw most job-creation. (The tax cuts, which likely will be extended, saw least.)

Reducing hunger instead of exacerbating it and cultivating cleaner air are among a laundry list of good reasons to develop cleaner energy instead of continuing to subsidize fossil fuels and industrial farming. It's a relief to see some of our lawmakers agree.