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 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.

Fiscal Cliff Deal Reached, Clean Energy Not Forgotten

January 3, 2013

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

After months of negotiating, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., reached an agreement to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Featured in the measure is an extension of a renewable electricity production tax credit for wind, geothermal and some biomass projects, which gives credit for each kilowatt-hour of energy they produce.

Highly contested prior to the bill’s passing was the credit’s impact on the wind industry. The credit, which offers 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of wind power production, had already expired when the deal was reached Tuesday. Its pending expiration had resulted in layoffs at United States turbine parts manufacturing plants as developers placed new projects on hold, though wind-turbine installations are predicted to exceed natural gas fueled power plants in the U.S. this year.

The tax credit has been expanded to cover wind projects that begin construction in 2013not only projects that are up and running. Lawmakers also extended credits for residential energy efficiency improvements, plug-in vehicles, energy-efficient new home construction and the production of various biofuels—including one that treats algae as a qualified feedstock.

Then, there are a few smaller items some might have missed in the new law. Among them: a $2-per-ton subsidy for coal produced on Native American lands and a credit for electric scooters. Also, electric and natural gas industries kept dividend tax rates on par with capital gains taxes.

Climate Records, Missteps

Even as many cities tied or broke weather records in 2012, climate-related coverage in the press waned, according to independent data collected by the nonprofit The Daily Climate. In fact, it dropped 2.4 percent from 2011. Among the surprises: stories linking climate change to weird weather and sea-level rise were up.

On Jan. 1 California looked to its own climate record when it began enforcing its cap-and-trade program, AB32—the first of its kind in the nation. If the program is deemed successful—cutting pollution without harming the economy, The National Journal reports, “there is every reason to think that it will pave the way for more state and national action on climate change.” The Washington Post worries about a number of things that could go wrong with the program. Among them is the issue of “leakage”—decreased emissions within California but increased emissions in other states.

The announcement of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson’s departure is expected to refocus attention on the Obama Administration’s direction on issues such as climate change and energy strategy. Among one of the most immediate: legal challenges as regulators prepare to release final rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. The agency may also face legal challenges from environmental groups who want it to propose air pollution standards for oil and gas drilling. EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe is expected to fill Jackson’s shoes, at least temporarily. Steven Cohen argues in The Huffington Post that the EPA, under any leadership, must make “the leap from environmental protection to environmental and economic sustainability.”

Energy Boom, Arctic Drilling Perils

Even amidst a drilling boom, ThinkProgress reports Americans paid more for gasoline in 2012—on average roughly nine cents more than in 2011. Tensions with Iran and refinery constraints were cited as factors in the increase. In 2013, AAA predicts prices to remain high—just not as high as in 2012.

Meanwhile, an oil rig that ran aground off the coast of Alaska has renewed debate about Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic this summer. This accident is the latest in a string of issues Shell has faced in its efforts to drill in the region. While the vessel was carrying more than 100,000 gallons of petroleum products, there has been no indication of a leak. As work to remove the rig continues, the web is abuzz with speculations about what this could mean for the future of Arctic drilling.

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.

Climate Change under the Microscope in Report, Leaked IPCC Draft

December 20, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: In observance of the holidays, The Climate Post will take a break from regular circulation Dec. 27. It will return January 3, 2013. 

As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., debate the so-called fiscal cliff—when U.S. federal tax increases and spending cuts are due to take effect at the end of 2012—new research in the journal Nature Climate Change says we are already at the edge of a climate cliff. It explores the cost and risk associated with surpassing critical emissions thresholds by 2020, and what would need to take place to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius—a mark many regard as the limit to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It further shares that reaching the 2-degree target may still be possible even if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced before 2020, but it will be more expensive and difficult, and come with higher risks. Just weeks ago, at the United Nations climate conference in Doha, governments failed to impose additional emissions cuts—looking to a new global climate treaty that would go into effect in 2020.

Meanwhile, the draft of the next assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which provides detailed assessments of climate science every few years—was leaked online by blogger Alec Rawls before its intended release next year. Rawls claims it contains a “game-changing admission” about the sun’s effect on climate, but Dana Nuccitelli writes in The Guardian that Rawls “has completely misrepresented” the report. Rawls’ interpretations actually draw attention from other interesting conclusions in the draft thus far, the New Scientist reports—such as ice-free Arctic summers by 2100, greater sea-level rise and the likelihood we’ll see almost 9 degrees Celsius of warming by 2300. The IPCC itself criticized the leak, but Andrew Revkin writes in The New York Times that—while he disagrees with Rawls’ interpretations of the report—the leak “provides fresh evidence that the [IPCC’s] policies and procedures are a terrible fit for an era in which transparency will increasingly be enforced on organizations working on consequential energy and environmental issues.”

Soot Standard Updated

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in response to a court order, has imposed updates to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particulate pollution from power plants and diesel vehicles. The new rule, which includes soot, was revised to allow only 12 micrograms of particulate pollution—a 20 percent reduction from the 15 micrograms allowed per cubic meter of air set in 1997. While the EPA projects 99 percent of U.S. counties will meet the revised health standard by 2020, today 66 counties in eight states—including the metropolitan areas of Houston, Chicago, Cleveland and Los Angeles—do not meet it.

The highly anticipated standards came with mixed reviews, with many applauding them and one study finding reductions in particulate matter correlated to increased life expectancy. “These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness on our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air.” Still, others criticized the rulingclaiming, among other things, that it threatens industry expansion.

2013 Climate and Energy Outlook

In the new year there are a number of energy and climate related developments to keep tabs on. Among them:

Oil and Gasoline: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gasoline consumption will remain flat in 2013, while U.S. oil production will rise to 7.1 million barrels a day—the highest average annual production rate in the country since 1992.

Keystone XL Pipeline: President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision on this pipeline—bringing crude from the Canadian oil sands to the U.S. There are still snags along the way, as residents challenge the pipeline and information surfaces about advanced spill technologies absent in current plans.

Cap-and-Trade Linkage: Quebec has adopted new regulations that could pave the way for the province to set up a cap-and-trade system with California in the new year.

Coal Demand to Increase: The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, predicted demand for coal will increase in every region of the world by 2017 except the U.S.

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.

Climate Change a Focus for President in Second Term

November 15, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a break from circulation Nov. 22, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. We will return Nov. 29. 

In his first press conference since being re-elected, President Barack Obama acknowledged he’ll focus on climate change in his second term. “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior, and carbon emissions,” Obama said at a televised news conference on Wednesday. “And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

Obama vowed to remain engaged in getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on a course of action on climate change, but not at the cost of jobs and economic growth. While he steered clear of making specific proposals for addressing climate change, Obama did offer this: “So what I am going to be doing over the next several weeks, the next several months, is having a conversation—a wide-ranging conversation—with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what more we can do to make short-term progress. You can expect that you will hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and help moves this agenda forward.”

Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy continues to drive attention to climate change. Most recently, a New York Daily News op-ed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated New York “will not allow the national paralysis over climate change to stop us from pursuing the necessary path for the future” and “denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects.” Cuomo’s words may follow shifting public perception if a new Zogby poll is to be believed. It found that “half of Republicans, 73 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats saying they’re worried about the growing cost and risks of extreme weather disasters fueled by climate change.”

Fiscal Cliff Renews Debate about the Environment

The environment was a focus this week as the still newly re-elected President Obama faced negotiations over a metaphorical “fiscal cliff”—when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 go into effect at the end of 2012, increasing taxes and putting in place spending cuts that could threaten environmental protections. Some have suggested a carbon tax as one means of avoiding the fiscal cliff, as it would curb climate change and help reduce the deficit. “It will be difficult for sure but we can back away from the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff at the same time,” former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said in an interview with The Guardian. “One way is with a carbon tax.” Obama didn’t specifically endorse that approach in a press conference Wednesday. According to The Hill, a Treasury Department official “did not rule out White House backing for a carbon tax as part of fiscal policy talks, but noted the administration isn’t going to propose one and that initiative would have to come from Republicans.” Earlier this week, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist suggested a “carbon tax swap”—a tax on carbon offset by an income tax cut—might not violate his no-tax pledge. After he was criticized by a Koch-backed group, he reversed the statement he made prior.

A number of environmentally focused services remain at risk should lawmakers fail to avert the fiscal cliff. Among those threatened—energy efficiency and production. Mother Nature Network reports: “Sequestration would take $148 million away from the U.S. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, according to the White House report, which Natural Resources Defense Council notes ‘would be equivalent to cutting the solar energy program at the Department of Energy in half, or equal to eliminating the entire wind and geothermal energy programs.’”

Country Eyeing California Cap-and-Trade Program

As Germany’s renewable energy institute, IWR, announced global carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.5 percent in 2011, California unveiled the nation’s first economy-wide carbon market to combat harmful emissions and potentially serve as a model for other states to fight climate change. The state’s cap-and-trade program requires businesses to purchase pollution allowances for going beyond their designated “cap” of greenhouse gases emissions. Despite a last-minute lawsuit by the California Chamber of Commerce alleging that the sale of allowances was an unconstitutional tax, the first auction moved forward.

The program was years in the making, designed with the assistance of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, among others. It is now the second largest carbon market in the world behind the European Union. ThinkProgress pointed out four important things about the program. Among them: money from auctions will be used to invest in California’s clean energy future that could reach $11 billion a year by 2020. The price for carbon will also vary as the program evolves. As The Associated Press explains: “For the first two years of the program, large industrial emitters will receive 90 percent of their allowances for free in a soft start meant to give companies time to reduce emissions through new technologies or other means. The cap, or number of allowances, will decline over time in an effort to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” The results of Wednesday’s closed, online auction will be available Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, the European Commission announced it will hold off requiring airlines based outside the European Union to pay for their carbon emissions until 2013—following threats of international retaliation. China, the United States, Russia and India opposed the charges, and the European Union plans had begun to cloud international trade relations. Around 30 governments that oppose the charges issued a joint declaration in February that cited possible retaliatory steps, such as imposing charges on European airlines.

Will the U.S. Be an Oil Giant Again?

Growing supplies of crude oil extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could transform the United States into one of the largest oil producers within the next decade. By around 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects, the U.S. will be the world’s largest global oil producer, overtaking both Russia and Saudi Arabia. It further predicts the U.S. will be virtually self-sufficient within 25 years. The implications are many. “There is a shift in competitiveness,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. If production forecasts are borne out, “it will have a major impact on the return of industry to United States.”

Gas prices, however, are falling—reaching numbers we haven’t seen since 2011.

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.