EPA Considering Lower Ozone Standard, Methane Strategy

September 4, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In its Policy Assessment for the Review of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards report—released Friday—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests revising the health-based national ambient air quality standard for ozone.

“Staff concludes that it is appropriate in this review to consider a revised primary [ozone] standard level within the range of 70 ppb [parts per billion] to 60 ppb,” the report said (subscription). “A standard set within this range would result in important improvements in public protection, compared to the current standard, and could reasonably be judged to provide an appropriate degree of public health protection, including for at-risk populations and life stages.”

The report is part of the normal EPA process to consider changing air quality standards. It recommends tightening current smog rules—now at 75 parts per billion—somewhere between 7 and 20 percent, echoing findings of the EPA’s science advisory committee in June. A final decision lies with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who has a Dec. 1 deadline to issue a proposal on whether to retain or revise the existing standard.

Earlier in the week, McCarthy announced plans to issue a methane strategy emphasizing efficiency and reducing the need to flare gas—a strategy that could force oil and gas producers to cut emissions.

“We’re going to be putting out a strategy this fall and we hope everybody will pay attention to that effort,” McCarthy said at the Barclays Capital energy forum on Tuesday. “It will be addressing the challenges as well as the opportunities.”

Whether or not actual regulations for the industry will be issued is still being decided. McCarthy noted that the agency is “looking at what are the most cost-effective regulatory and-or voluntary efforts that can take a chunk out of methane in the system.”

This effort follows on the heels of an announcement by the White House that directed the EPA to develop an inter-agency strategy to combat methane emissions from oil and natural gas systems. If issued, rules to cut methane emissions would take effect in 2016.

China Eyes Carbon Market

Reuters reports that China will launch the world’s largest carbon market in 2016, although some provinces would be allowed to join later if they lacked the technical infrastructure needed to participate at the outset. “We will send over the national market regulations to the State Council for approval by the end of the year,” Sun Cuihua, a senior climate official with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told a conference in Bejing.

Confirming the earlier statement by Cuihua, Wang Shu, an official with the climate division of the NDRC said “We’ve brought forward this plan because it’s been prioritized in the central government’s economic reforms. The central government is pushing reforms, so everything is speeding up.”  According to Reuters, as in other carbon markets, power plants and manufacturers would face a cap on the carbon dioxide they discharge.  If an emitter needs to exceed its cap, it will have to purchase additional permits from the market to account for such emissions.

Court Finds BP Grossly Negligent in 2010 Gulf Spill

A U.S. District judge on Thursday ruled that BP was “grossly negligent” in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 men and allowed millions of barrels of oil to flow out of the Macondo oil well into the Gulf of Mexico.

“The court concludes that the discharge of oil was the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct,” by BP, the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier said. He found that BP was at fault for 67 percent of the spill. Two other companies involved—Transocean and Halliburton—were responsible for 30 and 3 percent, respectively.

“The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case,” BP said in a statement. “BP believes that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court. The court has not yet ruled on the number of barrels spilled and no penalty has been determined. The District Court will hold additional proceedings, which are currently scheduled to begin in January 2015, to consider the application of statutory penalty factors in assessing a per-barrel Clean Water Act penalty.”

Judge Barbier’s ruling could result in as much as $18 billion in fines under the Clean Water Act, according to The Hill.

Bacteria Used to Make Alternative Fuel

A study in the journal Nature Communications suggests that Escherichia coli, or E. coli bacteria, which is widely found in the human intestine, can be used to create propane gas that can power vehicles, central heating systems and camp stoves.

“Although this research is at a very early stage, our proof of concept study provides a method for renewable production of a fuel that previously was only accessible from fossil reserves,” said Patrik Jones, a study co-author. “Although we have only produced tiny amounts so far, the fuel we have produced is ready to be used in an engine straight away. This opens up possibilities for future sustainable production of renewable fuels that at first could complement, and thereafter replace fossil fuels like diesel, petrol, natural gas and jet fuel.”

Commercial production is still five to 10 years away—the level of propane produced by the team is 1,000 times less than that needed to make a commercial product. The process, which needs further refinement, uses E. coli to interrupt a biological process to create engine-ready propane rather than cell membranes.

“At the moment, we don’t have a full grasp of exactly how the fuel molecules are made, so we are now trying to find out exactly how this process unfolds,” Jones said.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Senate Clears Way for Keystone XL Pipeline

June 19, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next week. It will return July 3.

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12 to 10 on a bill Wednesday approving the long-debated Keystone XL oil pipeline. The pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, requires presidential approval as it crosses international boundaries. Without a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring it to a vote by the full Senate, the bill is likely to languish.

Even so, Forbes deemed the vote “more than symbolic,” saying “It serves to tell the truth about Keystone XL, the need for new pipelines in this country, and for making our future energy security our top priority.”

Others, like Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Anthony Swift, disagreed. “This latest vote on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all about politics and bad policy,” he said. “Locking ourselves into a massive infrastructure to move the dirtiest oil on the planet for the next 50 years would greatly worsen carbon pollution—at a time when we’re facing growing and grievous costs wrought by climate change.”

Another Canadian pipeline did get the official green light—the Northern Gateway project. Just as controversial as Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to British Columbia, where it would be loaded on supertankers for shipment to Asia through sensitive waters in the Pacific’s shipping lanes. Before construction can begin on the Northern Gateway pipeline, Enbridge must meet about 100 conditions imposed by the regulator. Inside Climate News focuses on the “eerie” parallels between the debates on each pipeline project.

As the United States Grapples with EPA Rule, Japan Considers Carbon Trading

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants has made it into the pages of the Federal Register, an event marking the start of a 120-day comment period.

In the weeks since the rule’s release, there has been closer examination of how states can meet emissions standards cost effectively. Some say energy efficiency is the answer. Another potential solution: wind and solar. In an op-ed in The Hill, representatives of the American Wind Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association point to the technologies’ cost decreases and significant carbon reduction benefits. Others like Ed Throop, director for the Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities, are not so convinced. “The wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine all the time,” he said. It’s good, clean energy, but it’s not what you’d call baseload energy. You can’t call on it anytime you need it.”  

Japan has its own strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to unnamed government sources, the country may have plans to agree to a carbon deal with India. Japanese companies would install carbon-cutting technology in India and in return receive carbon credits that can be used to offset their country’s emissions under the joint crediting mechanism. So far, Japan has signed agreements with 11 countries to launch the joint crediting mechanism. Several news outlets reported the likelihood of a bilateral agreement in early July during annual talks by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ocean Sanctuary Would Close Parts of Pacific to Energy Exploration

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced his intent to expand a U.S. sanctuary in the central Pacific Ocean. Slated to go into effect later this year, the proposal extends protection around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 200 miles and limits fishing and energy development. The White House said it will consider input from lawmakers and fishermen before making any final decisions about the geographic scope of the sanctuary.

In video remarks, Obama said climate change, overfishing and pollution have threatened economic growth opportunities in the ocean.

“We cannot afford to let that happen,” Obama said. “That’s why the United States is leading the fight to protect our oceans. Let’s make sure that years from now we can look our children in the eye and tell them that, yes, we did our part, we took action, and we led the way toward a safer, more stable world.”

Marine reserves, Smithsonian Magazine reports, can mitigate some of these problems by increasing the size and number of marine creatures within its borders and helping species deal with climate change.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

 


States, Studies React to EPA Rule Release

June 12, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On the coattails of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule for regulating carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, the White House issued a report on the health effects of climate change. The seven-page report outlines six major risks linked to rising temperatures—asthma, lung and heart illnesses; infectious disease; allergies; flooding-related hazards and heat stroke.

But one week after release of the EPA rule, most conversation centered on how the states will undertake their role in executing it. States in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative were hopeful their participation in the carbon trading program would help meet the requirements of the new rule. Lawmakers in at least eight states approved anti-EPA resolutions. Kentucky has enacted a new law that could block the state from complying with the rule, and West Virginia sent a letter to the EPA requesting the agency to withdraw the rule.

The proposal, which assigns each state interim and final emissions goals and asks the states to develop plans to reach them, accounts for the regional differences that affect how hard it will be to reduce emissions. The differences are both practical—how expensive one energy source is compared to another—and political. The proposal does say it “anticipates—and supports—states’ commitments to a wide range of policy preferences,” including decisions “to feature significant reliance on coal-based generation.”

States using a more traditional regulatory approach to execute their plans may be choosing a more costly approach than putting a price on carbon. New research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds that a regulatory standards approach cut less carbon at a higher price than emissions reductions that could be achieved under a cap-and-trade system (subscription).

“With a broader policy, like cap-and-trade, the market can distribute the costs across sectors, technologies and time horizons, and find the cheapest solutions,” said a study author Valerie Karplus. “So the market encourages emissions reductions from sectors like electricity and agriculture, and requires reductions from vehicles and electricity at a level that makes economic sense given an emissions target. On the other hand, narrow regulations force cuts in ways that are potentially more costly and less effective in reducing emissions.”

According to a Bloomberg national poll, Americans—by nearly a two-to-one margin—are willing to pay more for energy if it helps combat climate change. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll had similar findings, showing that most voters approve of the EPA’s new regulations even if there is a rise in energy costs.  Here at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, we looked ahead to the possibility of a further expansion of Clean Air Act standards limiting carbon dioxide emissions from other sectors. In particular, a new policy brief identifies key differences between the electric power and refining industries, highlighting their potential significance for regulating the refining industry. A companion working paper more deeply examines policy design as well as options for maximizing cost effectiveness while accounting for differences among refineries.

Study: Agricultural Emissions Can Be Curbed

Worldwide, agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of human-caused emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with 300 times as much heat-trapping power as carbon dioxide. Overuse of nitrogen fertilizer is increasing these emissions.

A study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that soil microbes were converting nitrogen fertilizer (subscription) into nitrous oxide faster than previously expected when fertilizer rates exceeded crop needs. In fact, the change was happening at a rate of about one kilogram of greenhouse gas for every 100 kilograms of fertilizer.

“Our specific motivation is to learn where to best target agricultural efforts to slow global warming,” said Phil Robertson, author of the study and director of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station. “Agriculture accounts for 8 to 14 percent of all greenhouse gas production globally. We’re showing how farmers can help to reduce this number by applying nitrogen fertilizer more precisely.”

The study offers proven ways to reduce nitrogen use—applying fertilizer in the spring instead of fall and placing it deeper in the soil for easier plant access. It also provides support for expanding the use of carbon credits to pay farmers for improved fertilizer management.

This week, the first agricultural greenhouse gas emissions offsets were issued to a Michigan farmer whose voluntary decrease of nitrogen fertilizer use on corn crops reduced nitrous oxide emissions.

Crude Oil Production to Increase

U.S. crude oil production will reach its highest level—9.3 million barrels per day—in 2015, according to the latest Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast, issued Tuesday. The EIA estimates 8.4 million barrels per day for 2014—the United States averaged 7.4 million in 2013.

The increase will not have a dramatic effect on gas prices. The EIA reports that the U.S. average price for gasoline is expected to fall to $3.54 a gallon in September and to $3.38 a gallon in 2015.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Study Says United States Tops List of Global Warming Offenders

January 16, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A new study by Canadian researchers finds the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and developing nations Brazil and India were responsible for more than 60 percent of global temperature changes between 1906 and 2005. The U.S. alone was responsible for 22 percent of the warning; China followed at 9 percent and Russia at 8 percent. Brazil and India each contributed 7 percent; the U.K. and Germany were each responsible for 5 percent. The findings, authors said, are particularly important for diplomats working toward a deal in 2015 to limit emissions.

“A clear understanding of national contributions to climate warming provides important information with which to determine national responsibility for global warming, and can therefore be used as a framework to allocate future emissions,” researchers said in their paper, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

To restrict warming to U.N. targets of 2 degrees Celsius, rising world emissions would need to drop 40 to 70 percent by 2050, Reuters reports. U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said number two historic emitter China is taking the right steps to address global warming with its energy-efficiency standards for buildings and other renewable energy commitments. In the U.S. carbon emissions from energy fell 12 percent between 2005 and 2012, but the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates a 2 percent increase in these emissions in 2013.

Global Energy Demand Growth, Renewable Investment Slowing

Global energy consumption continues to grow, but slowly. The fourth annual edition of the BP Energy Outlook 2035 pegged growth at 41 percent compared with 55 percent the last 23 years. Although demand from emerging economies is predicted to rise steadily, energy demand elsewhere will slow through 2035.

The U.S., the report said, will be able to provide for its own energy needs in the next two decades with the acceleration of shale oil and gas production. Natural gas, in particular, will overtake oil as the country’s most used fuel as early as 2027—accounting for 35 percent of U.S. consumption by 2035. Oil, however, will be the slowest growing of the major fuels with demand rising on average 0.8 percent annually. Still, U.S. oil imports are expected to drop 75 percent through 2035.

In Europe, the energy market is predicted to rise just 5 percent by 2030 and to become more dependent on imports of gas. China’s energy production will rise 61 percent with consumption growing 71 percent by 2035.

The release of BP’s Energy Outlook comes the same day Bloomberg New Energy Finance revealed that global investment in clean energy fell 12 percent last year.

“Global investment in clean energy was USD 254 billion last year, down from a revised USD 288.9 billion in 2012 and the record USD 317.9 billion of 2011,” a release from Bloomberg stated. In Japan, clean energy investment spiked as a result of small-scale solar installations.

RGGI States Reduce Emission Cap in 2014

States participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) dropped their carbon dioxide emissions cap for power plants 45 percent for 2014 to 91 million tons. The initiative, which partners New York, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, aims to reduce these states’ power plant pollution by half of 2005 levels.

“RGGI has once again proven that state leadership provides the laboratory for innovation,” said Kenneth Kimmell, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and RGGI chair. “RGGI is a cost-effective and flexible program that can serve as a national model for dramatically reducing carbon pollution for other states throughout the nation.”

Within the program, each power plant is assigned an amount of carbon dioxide it can release, but the plants can buy and sell allowances to increase or decrease their emissions. At the first allowance auction under the new limits March 5, states will offer up 18.6 million carbon dioxide allowances.

Appellate court arguments surrounding New Jersey’s 2011 exit from the trading program began this week.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Carbon Markets Show Glimmers of Recovery in 2014

January 9, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A year after the launch of its cap-and-trade program, California formally linked its emissions trading scheme with Quebec’s—enabling carbon allowances and offset credits to be exchanged between participants in the two jurisdictions. The linkage, which marks the first agreement in North America that allows for the trading of greenhouse gas emissions across borders, is designed to escalate the price on the amount of carbon businesses can emit.

There is a “potential for this market to serve as an example for other North American subnational jurisdictions to follow if it can prove to be successful,” said Robin Fraser, a Toronto-based analyst with the International Emissions Trading Association.

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) opted to beef up its carbon trading system. Carbon prices are poised to rebound from a three-year decline after the 28-country bloc decided to back a stopgap plan to reduce the number of pollution permits that have flooded the market. As a result, the cost of emitting carbon dioxide may increase more than 50 percent on average to $10.54 a metric ton by the end of 2014.

The “backloading” plan aims to remove 900 million permits from the EU market between now and 2016. The date on which the law is formally adopted will drive the quantity of permits that can be withdrawn from auctions this year.

“If the auction calendars can still be adapted by end-March, a total of 400 million allowances will be backloaded for 2014. This amount will be reduced to 300 million if backloading is initiated in April, May or June,” according to the European Commission.

The move, The Economic Times reports, may help to lead global carbon market recovery in 2014. Last year, global carbon markets’ value dropped 38 percent to $52.9 billion.

EPA Power Plant Rule Open for Public Comment

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft proposal limiting carbon emissions from new power plants was published in the Federal Register Wednesday, triggering a 60-day public comment period.

The delay between the Sept. 20 announcement of the rule and the Jan. 8 Federal Register inking had prompted speculation about whether the agency was reconsidering the controversial rule requiring plants be built with carbon capture and storage (CCS) capabilities if they burn coal (subscription). The rule has drawn criticism from coal industry supporters, who say that CCS technology is not viable. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, sees things differently.

“We have proven time after time that setting fair Clean Air Act standards to protect public health does not cause the sky to fall,” McCarthy said in September. She noted that the proposed rule, “rather than killing the future of coal, actually sets out a certain pathway forward for coal to continue to be part of a diverse mix in this country.”

Another EPA rule that’s meant to remove potential obstacles to implementation of CCS was also published in the Federal Register. This rule, according to the EPA, is expected to “substantially reduce” the uncertainty associated with identifying carbon dioxide streams under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as well as to facilitate deployment of geological sequestration.

Eruption of “Supervolcano” Could Have Global Climate Effects

A new study suggests that the magma chamber beneath one famous national park is 2.5 times larger than previously known and that it could have the potential to erupt with a force 2,000 times greater than Mount St. Helens in 1980.

Although there isn’t enough data to predict the timing of another Yellowstone eruption—the last one happened about 640,000 years ago—study scientists say instruments monitoring seismic activity would provide some warning. That eruption would leave volcanic material and gases lingering in the atmosphere that could result in a global temperature decrease.

“You’ll get ashfall as far away as the Great Plains, and even farther east,” said University of Utah scientist James Farrell of the findings presented at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting.

Two separate studies in the journal Nature Geoscience suggest just how the magma in “supervolcanoes” like the one in Yellowstone blow sky high: the buoyancy of the magma exerting pressure on the magma chamber walls eventually causes the chamber roof to collapse. Though rare, supervolcano eruptions have a devastating impact on the Earth’s climate and ecology, reports BBC.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Supreme Court Will Hear Challenges to EPA Rule

October 17, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Supreme Court opted Tuesday to hear challenges raised by states and industry groups to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rules issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act. Six of nine petitions were granted review. The specific issue in the case deals with the GHG permitting program that the EPA implemented in January 2011 (commonly referred to as the Tailoring Rule).

Since 2011, the Tailoring Rule has required new power plants and other large polluting facilities to apply for permits to emit greenhouse gases. According to the Oct. 15 order, the Supreme Court will consider whether regulating GHG emissions from vehicles necessarily triggers a requirement for stationary industrial sources such as power plants to obtain permits for their GHG emissions. The court will look at “whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.”

The court will not consider other issues such as whether greenhouse gases endanger public health when it hears arguments early next year. It is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June 2014.

A 2007 Supreme Court caseMassachusetts v. EPA—found that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act. That ruling prompted the EPA to promulgate the first-ever GHG regulations for motor vehicles.

The Supreme Court’s review of these regulations could slow the EPA’s work on a rule to account for carbon dioxide from burning wood for energy, according to ClimateWire (subscription).

“The EPA is dealing with two issues that related to our industry right now,” said Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves. “One is how to respond to the D.C. Circuit ruling in July that invalidated the Tailoring Rule deferral [of biogenic emissions], and secondly, how to measure carbon emission from biogenic sources. Our reading is that the court appears to be prepared to examine the statutory underpinnings of EPA’s authority to regulate power plants, including biomass, and we’ll continue to work with EPA on the underlying accounting rule for biomass to get the science right on the issue.”

Deal Reached to End Government Shutdown, Raise Debt Ceiling

A bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit through Feb. 7 and fund the government through Jan. 15—ending a 16-day partial government shutdown—was reached Wednesday. President Barack Obama signed the bill Thursday morning.

House Republicans had pushed to block new EPA regulations on greenhouse gas production and to roll back regulations on coal ash, among other things. The deal, however, is not rumored to include provisions related to energy policy or for repaying states for funding national parks during the shutdown (subscription).

The shutdown will have wide-reaching environmental impacts—reducing the nation’s ability to react to extreme weather events and carry out research. Antarctica field researchers who have spent decades collecting data on penguins and ice sheets to better study global warming now have documentation gaps. Further delays in a decision to approve or disapprove the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, are expected after the shutdown made it harder for the State Department to review the permitting process.

Airline Carbon Tax Proposal Revisited

The European Commission this week issued a proposal that would impose a tax on air-polluting emissions for all flights operating in Europe’s airspace. The proposal follows a controversial plan the European Union (EU) had to back down from last year. That plan would have required flights crossing EU airspace to buy pollution credits to cover 15 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions for the entire journey.

The proposal still has to be approved by the European Union’s government and parliament. If it passes, the legislation would apply from Jan. 1, 2014, until 2020, when an international airline carbon emissions tax scheme, agreed on by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s assembly of nations from the U.S. to Russia and the EU, takes effect.

“The European Union has reduced greenhouse gas emissions considerably, and all the economic sectors are contributing to these efforts,” said EU Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. “The aviation sector also has to contribute, as aviation emissions are increasing fast—doubling since 1990. I am confident that the European Parliament and the Council will move swiftly and approve this proposal without delay. With this proposal, Europe is taking the responsibility to reduce emissions within its own airspace until the global measure begins.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


U.N. Agency Says Global Temperatures Hottest Since Meteorological Measurement Began

July 11, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The United Nations agency charged with understanding weather and climate released new findings indicating the world experienced above average temperatures from 2001 to 2010. In fact, the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest since modern meteorological measurement began in 1850.

“Rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are changing our climate, with far-reaching implications for our environment and our oceans, which are absorbing both carbon dioxide and heat,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, who noted many extremes could be explained by natural variations, but that rising emissions of man-made greenhouse gases also played a role.

The report analyzed global and regional trends as well as extreme weather events, finding land and sea temperatures averaged 58 degrees Fahrenheit compared with the long-term average of 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit indicated by weather records dating back to 1881.

Release of the report comes just days after President Barack Obama committed to “redouble” efforts to forge an international climate agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks in Warsaw, which will attempt to establish a framework for rules governing industry-based carbon markets and non-market programs after 2020, Bloomberg reports.

China, U.S. Make Carbon Deal

On Wednesday, China and the United States—which account for more than 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—agreed to a non-binding plan aimed at cutting carbon emissions from the largest sources in both countries. The deal was made at the U.S.–China Strategic Dialogue in Washington, D.C. a month after the countries agreed to phase out hydroflurocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas. The plan targets five initiatives, to be developed by a working group with officials from both countries. The initiatives focuses on improving energy efficiency, reducing emissions from heavy-duty vehicles, collection and management of greenhouse gas data, smart grid promotion and advancement of carbon capture and storage technology.

“Both countries are acting actively in transforming their growth models,” said Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese team and vice director of the National Development and Reform Commission. “Under the context of sustainable development, both countries are taking active measures in addressing climate change and in improving the environment. I think the measures we have taken are working towards each other for the same objective and have created a very good political foundation for our cooperation in climate change …”

The plan, which won’t be finalized until October, is intended to include more aggressive measures to limit output of emissions from coal-fired power plants. A new study released prior to the agreement links heavy air pollution from coal burning to shortened lifespans for residents in northern China.

In the U.S., Obama placed carbon standards for power plants among top priorities in a recent climate action plan speech in which he called for a revised draft of the proposed rule for new plants by September. On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent an updated emissions rule for new power plants to the White House. The contents, which remain confidential, come ahead of Obama’s September date request. Once the new source rule is finalized, it will trigger a requirement under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act for the EPA to regulate existing fossil-fuel plants.

Vitter Drops McCarthy Filibuster Threat

A full Senate vote on Gina McCarthy—Obama’s pick to lead the EPA—could come as early as next week now that one of McCarthy’s biggest critics has lifted his threat to place a hold on her nomination.

“I see no further reason to block Gina McCarthy’s nomination, and I’ll support moving to an up-or-down vote on her nomination,” said Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, after acknowledging the EPA had sufficiently answered requests he made in connection with McCarthy’s nomination.

Although McCarthy still faces a hold on her nomination from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Vitter’s announcement signals a step forward for Obama’s climate change policies that curb emissions from existing and future power plants. The president will rely on McCarthy to lead the agency in crafting rules that support those policies.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


NOAA, Others Predict Active Atlantic Hurricane Season

May 30, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its predictions for hurricane activity, ahead of the official start of the storm season June 1. In the Atlantic, NOAA forecasts an active season with 13 to 20 named storms. Seven to 11 of those storms, NOAA said, could actually develop into Category 1 or higher hurricanes. As many as three to six of them have the potential to become Category 3 or higher hurricanes.

NOAA’s predictions for the 2013 hurricane season are comparable to those of other independent groups such as AccuWeather.com and Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center. All cite a similar cocktail of conditions that set the stage for a more active season.

“This year, oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic basin are expected to produce more and stronger hurricanes,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “These conditions include weaker wind shear, warmer Atlantic waters and conducive wind patterns coming from Africa.”

In 2012, when hurricanes Sandy and Isaac made landfall, there were 10 named storms. Destruction from Hurricane Sandy was so great that NOAA is now rethinking its approach to storm surge forecasts.

Meanwhile, activity in the Eastern and Central Pacific was predicted to be below normal.

Regulating Carbon Emissions

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has completed its study of the economic and environmental effects of a carbon tax, which would place a fee on oil, gas and coal with the goal of reducing harmful emissions. The report not only looks at the impact of a carbon tax, but also at how large the tax should be and how the revenue would be spent.

Taxing fossil fuels, the CBO found, would increase gasoline and power costs. Specifically, a carbon tax of $20 per ton would increase gasoline prices by about 20 cents a gallon and electricity bills by 16 percent, on average. The impact of these hikes—especially for low-income households—could be reduced or eliminated, (subscription) depending on how the revenue was spent.

In California, the cost of carbon is starting to rise. The state’s Air Resources Board held its third cap-and-trade auction, selling out 2013 permits at a record price. Still, some debate exists about how revenue from the country’s first emissions trading scheme would be spent.

Jackson to Lead Apple’s Environmental Efforts

Lisa Jackson, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, will serve as Apple’s top environmental advisor, company CEO Tim Cook announced Tuesday. Cook was going over Apple’s environmental efforts when he referenced the hire on stage at a technology conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California, noting Jackson will be coordinating efforts across the company.

“Apple has shown how innovation can drive real progress by removing toxics from its products, incorporating renewable energy in its data center plans, and continually raising the bar for energy efficiency in the electronics industry,” Jackson told the Washington Post in an e-mail. “I look forward to helping support and promote these efforts, as well as leading new ones in the future aimed at protecting the environment.”

Progress forward for Jackson’s potential successor is still in limbo, and Business Week notes that Gina McCarthy’s fate is not entirely in her own hands. In particular, much of the data that EPW Ranking Republican David Vitter is insisting be released before he would acquiesce to her consideration is not even in the control of the agency. Instead, it is possessed by Harvard University and protected by confidentiality agreements between the University and subjects of the study. The Competitive Enterprise Institute also is now suing to obtain McCarthy’s text messages from days on which she testified before Congress.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


A Wind Tax Credit, Indefinitely?

February 21, 2013

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In last week’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for doubling research and development funding for renewable energy. A policy document released by the White House following the State of the Union proposes making the wind production tax credit—which was renewed in January for one year as part of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff—permanent.

“To once again double generation from wind, solar and geothermal sources by 2020, the President has called on Congress to make the renewable energy production tax credit permanent and refundable, as part of a comprehensive corporate tax reform, providing incentives and certainty for investments in new clean energy,” the policy document states. Internal analysis by the American Wind Energy Association indicates phasing out the credit—over the course of six years—would give the industry the time it needs to establish a “stable base market” in the U.S.

But some in Congress have set their sights on challenging the tax credit and subjecting it to increased oversight.

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report, 100 percent of electricity capacity added in January 2013 was from renewables, with the majority coming from wind.

Vote Saves EU Trading Scheme, for Now

The world’s largest carbon market was saved from collapse this week. The European Parliament’s environment committee voted to support a proposed plan to remove a record surplus of emissions permits from their carbon trading scheme, which imposes emission limits on some 12,000 power plants and factories. The surplus—a result of the recession and factors such as an increase in carbon auctions—has driven carbon prices to an all-time low. The “backloading” plan delays the scheduled release of permits by up to five years. The vote did fail to provide a hoped-for boost to carbon allowance prices, which dropped 20 percent following the announcement.

The backloading plan still needs approval by the full European Parliament and the governments of the 27 member states.

Studies Put Arctic Ice Loss under Microscope

A reduction in summer Arctic ice cover reached a record low in 2012. But new research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters suggests this melting doesn’t stop in cooler months. It finds sea ice volumes have declined 9 percent during the winter and 36 percent during autumn months over the course of the last decade.

This widespread reduction of ice is disrupting the balance of the region’s greenhouse gases. The melting affects both the uptake and release of gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, which can end up in the soil and cause lasting negative effects.

As the ice retreats and more shipping routes are opened, access for oil and gas exploration has also become easier. The United Nations Environment Programme says the region needs to be better protected as a result. Their report, UNEP Year Book 2013, recommends using economic instruments to create financial incentives that would improve chemical safety. A better understanding of how exploration would affect the region’s ecosystems and populations, Reuters reports, is also needed before taking further steps to develop the Artic.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


In State of the Union Obama Targets Energy, Climate

February 14, 2013

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Amid discussion of gun control, immigration reform and deficit reduction, President Barack Obama touched on his agenda for energy and climate in his State of the Union address Tuesday. Picking up where he left off in his second inaugural address, Obama took his focus on climate change one step further, calling on Congress to enact legislation to cut carbon pollution and increase clean energy production. He made it clear he intends to act with or without lawmakers.

“But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama said. “I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take now and in the future to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Topping the list of actions for Congress: a market-based solution similar to cap-and trade legislation John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on a few years ago. A cap-and-trade system—like the one established in California—would create a cap, or limit, on industrial greenhouse gas emissions that would decrease over time. At the federal level, it died in the Senate in 2010. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer rolled out a bill that would levy a fee on large fossil fuel facilities—building off the momentum of the State of the Union (subscription required). Wednesday the Environment and Public Works Committee held a briefing to discuss the latest findings in climate science research.

During the speech, Obama offered no details on steps he would take if Congress fails to act. While there was no mention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations of power plants, The National Journal reports he is on track to use his executive authority to introduce rules for controlling carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act this year. This would go beyond mandates currently proposed for new facilities.

Energy Trust Would Drive New Research to Reduce Oil Dependence

In addition to taking executive action to curb climate change, Obama proposed using the revenues from federal oil and gas production to fund an Energy Security Trust. This trust would “drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.” The $2 billion investment would support research into a range of technologies, including homegrown biofuels and electric vehicles. It would not require expanding drilling. The Hill notes that creating such a trust would require an Act of Congress, and some Republican lawmakers are already calling the plan a “nonstarter.”

Obama also wants to work with Congress to encourage cleaner-burning natural gas. “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” he said. “We need to encourage that. And that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water.” Merrill Matthews at Forbes is skeptical of Obama’s promises to expedite the permitting process for oil and gas drilling, accusing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of withdrawing public lands that had already undergone a lengthy environmental review and been approved for oil and gas leasing.

Is the Speech a Roadmap for 2013?

The answers are mixed. Some liked what they heard. Success of the address, USA Today reports, depends on the success of the policies. The President has delivered variable results on proposals he’s put forth in four previous State of the Union addresses, reports Politico. With Republicans in control of the House, CBS News’s Brian Montopoli says a resurrection of a cap-and-trade bill like the one Obama proposed in 2009 is doubtful.

Meanwhile, a new national poll by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions suggests many Americans haven’t formed an opinion about a cap-and-trade approach; with support low, 36 percent are neither for nor against. It also found only 29 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat support a carbon tax and 64 percent strongly or somewhat favor regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and cars. However, the percentage of Americans who think the climate is changing, and that the change is a result of human activity, have reached their highest levels since 2007.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.