The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Department of Energy, on Wednesday night, released its electric grid reliability study, finding that the greatest driver of baseload power plant retirements was cheap natural gas followed by flat power demand, environmental regulations and the growing penetration of renewables on the grid.

Requested by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April, the study was intended to report on whether the U.S. electric grid can handle the retirement of aging coal-fired and nuclear power plants and the “market-distorting effects of federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others.”

It found that “the biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation.”

It offers recommendations to boost coal and nuclear. It suggests that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ease rules for resources such as coal, nuclear and hydropower and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission likewise ease permitting rules for nuclear plants. It also suggests that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expedite efforts to reform the way prices are set in wholesale markets and how those markets value reliability. Finally, it recommends that the Department of Energy should prioritize research and development for grid resiliency, reliability, modernization and renewables integration technologies be promoted.

Notably absent from the grid study was any mention of climate change, the focus of a 15-member panel disbanded Friday by the Trump administration. The panel had been charged with helping officials and policy makers evaluate a separate federal report, the National Climate Assessment Report. Its members warned that the move leaves the public to deal with what amounts to a data dump with its impending release.

Established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2015, the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained Climate Assessment included members of government, industry, academia and non-profits. The group was charged with helping evaluate the National Climate Assessment Report, a portion of which [the Climate Science Special Report] was widely publicized in its draft form earlier this month.

The charter for the committee expired Sunday. A note on the committee’s website offers that “per the terms of the charter, the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment (Committee) expired on August 20, 2017. The Department of Commerce and NOAA appreciate the efforts of the committee and offer sincere thanks to each of the committee members for their service.”

NOAA Communications Director Julie Roberts said “this action does not impact the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which remains a key priority.”

The Climate Science Special Report is due in its final form in November; the larger congressionally mandated document, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, is scheduled for publication in late 2018.

The National Climate Assessment integrates and evaluates current and projected global climate change trends, both human-induced and natural, and analyzes the effects of current and projected climate change. It has been published three times since passage of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, a law mandating its publication every four years.

Court Directs FERC to Consider GHG Impacts of Pipelines

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 decision issued Tuesday, found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fuel flowing through the Southeast Market Pipelines Project when it approved the project in 2016. FERC’s failure under the National Environmental Policy Act to adequately discuss the downstream effects of carbon emissions from natural gas transported through the pipelines in the project’s environmental impact statement was grounds for the court’s vacatur and remand.

Judge Thomas Griffith wrote that FERC’s environmental review “should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so.”

Griffith went on to write that “greenhouse-gas emissions are an indirect effect of authorizing this project, which FERC could reasonably foresee, and which the agency has legal authority to mitigate. Quantification would permit the agency to compare the emissions from this project to emissions from other projects, to total emissions from the state or the region, or to regional or national emissions-control goals. Without such comparisons, it is difficult to see how FERC could engage in ‘informed decision making’ with respect to the greenhouse-gas effects of this project, or how ‘informed public comment’ could be possible.”

The project comprises three natural gas pipelines under construction in Alabama, Georgia and Florida that are intended to bring natural gas to Florida to fuel existing and planned power plants.

Trump Denies Coal Exec Plea as EPA Reviews Toxic Waste Limits from Coal Power Plants

As part of a legal appeal, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt filed a letter Monday with the Fifth Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans in which he indicated that he will seek to revise the 2015 guidelines mandating increased treatment for wastewater from coal-fired power plants.

The rule, originally issued by the Obama administration in 2015, aimed to reduce toxic water discharges into lakes, rivers and streams from coal-fired power plants and coal ash dumps.

In the letter, Pruitt said he “decided that it is appropriate and in the public interest to conduct a rulemaking to potentially revise the new, more stringent Best Available Technology Economically Achievable effluent limitations and Pretreatment Standards for Existing Sources in the 2015 rule that applies to bottom ash transport water and flue gas desulfurization wastewater.”

The 2015 rule has faced some scrutiny, with opponents saying it could lead to the closure of coal-fired power plants and economic harm for small utilities.

Also this week, the Trump administration denied a request by coal industry executives from Murray Energy Corporation and FirstEnergy Solutions Corporation to provide them relief for plants they say are overburdened by environmental regulations and market stresses, by pushing forward a rarely used emergency order protecting coal-fired power plants.

“We look at the facts of each issue and consider the authorities we have to address them but with respect to this particular case at this particular time, the White House and the Department of Energy are in agreement that the evidence does not warrant the use of this emergency authority,” said U.S. Department of Energy spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.

The department did not address assertions by Murray Energy Corporation CEO Bob Murray in letters that Trump told him multiple times in July and August that he wanted Energy Secretary Rick Perry to invoke the emergency authority.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last week, Republican lawmakers revived a bill aimed at stopping use of the social cost of carbon (or the social cost of any greenhouse gas) in federal rulemaking (subscription). The bill would bar the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from applying the metric in any action, going further than President Trump’s executive order, signed in March, to revoke existing guidance and disband the interagency working group that sets guidance for the metric’s use. The bill’s reintroduction comes on the heels of a new study in the journal Science that makes a major advance in calculation of the cumulative economic impacts of climate change.

The study estimates that the United States could incur damages worth 1.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for every 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperature. Those damages include worsening economic inequality, heat-related deaths, agricultural declines, and even increased crime. The hard-hit counties—mainly in the South—could see losses higher than 20 percent of GDP. In the worst-hit county, Florida’s Union County, losses could near 28 percent, the kind of disparity that could contribute to political instability and drive mass migration.

According to lead researcher Solomon Hsiang, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, the most striking “takeaway message” is that “the effects of climate change on the U.S. are not the same everywhere. Where you are in the country really matters.” By which he means that climate change will move wealth away from the south and toward the north and west of the country, although he acknowledges that exact costs and their redistribution are hard to nail down because a changing climate makes the future world hard to predict.

Nonetheless, “Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States,” said Hsiang. “If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.”

The main takeaway of the study for Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions faculty fellow Billy Pizer, who wrote a perspective accompanying the study, is that it has produced “the first comprehensive estimate of climate change damages driven by state-of-the-art empirical studies of climate change impacts.”

The study team—a group of economists and climate scientists—used state-of-the-art statistical methods and 116 climate projections to price those impacts the way insurers or investors would. Specifically, they computed the real-world costs and benefits of increased temperatures, changing rainfall, rising seas and intensifying storms on agriculture, crime, health, energy demand, labor and coastal communities. In total, they computed the possible effects of 15 types of impacts for each U.S. county in 29,000 simulations.

The study appears to represent a significant improvement over earlier financial forecasts of climate change, which approximated damages for the entire country at once. The new study built its model from microeconomic studies of how variation in climate affects well-measured, and well-valued, county-level outcomes like crop yields, mortality, and energy consumption. But because the model’s algorithms emerge from observed relationships in real-world data, estimates omit many serious climate change risks, such as biodiversity loss, for which economic cost data were considered insufficient.

According to the researchers, their model is designed to continually integrate new findings and new climate model predictions, producing actionable science (subscription).

Red Team, Blue Team: Pruitt Calls for Debate of Climate Science

On Monday, a federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot freeze implementation of a rule requiring oil and gas companies to fix leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas, while it reconsiders that rule. The court ruling could hint at trouble for the Trump administration’s efforts to unilaterally delay regulations such as those aimed at curbing greenhouse gases. But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may have found a new context in which to question the need for such regulations.

Pruitt is leading a formal initiative to assess climate science using a “back-and-forth critique” by government-recruited experts. The idea is to stage “red team, blue team” exercises used by the military to identify vulnerabilities in field operations to conduct an “at-length evaluation of US climate science,” an official told ClimateWire. Other Trump administration officials are said to be discussing whether the initiative would stretch across many federal agencies that rely on such science.

“Climate science like other fields of science is constantly changing,” said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman. “A new, fresh, and transparent evaluation is something everyone should support doing.”

But scientists and former EPA officials worry that the debate will give a disproportionately large voice to the limited number of skeptical voices within the scientific community. And, as was pointed out by PBS, science does not operate not by debate but by peer-reviewed studies.

Energy industry executives said the approach to scientific review that Pruitt is instituting could allow a challenge to the 2009 scientifically based environmental endangerment finding that established the EPA’s legal foundation for restricting greenhouse gas emissions from mobile and stationary sources. But lawyers say successfully making that challenge could be extremely difficult.

President Outlines Energy Dominance Proposals

President Trump last week outlined a multipronged plan to increase production of and export fossil fuels, including what he described as “clean, beautiful coal.” Speaking at the Department of Energy’s Washington headquarters, he called the need for regulations “a myth” and said his new policies would reap “millions and millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in wealth.” Although he did not reference renewable energy, climate change or reducing emissions, he touted his decision to exit the Paris climate agreement and to approve the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines.

To usher in what he dubbed “the golden era of American energy,” Trump outlined six initiatives:

  • Expanding nuclear energy
  • Lowering barriers to financing of overseas coal energy plants
  • Constructing a petroleum pipeline to Mexico
  • Increasing sales of natural gas to South Korea
  • Exporting additional natural gas from the Lake Charles liquid natural gas terminal in Louisiana
  • Opening a new offshore oil and gas leasing program.

The last initiative calls for an Interior Department rewrite of a five-year Obama-era drilling plan that had closed areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to drilling. The Washington Post pointed out that the surge of onshore oil and natural gas production due to horizontal drilling has helped to lower the price of petroleum, diminishing interest in offshore drilling.

In a New York Times op-ed, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head (and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Advisory Board chairman) William Reilly noted that drilling in those areas could come at an economic cost. “A spill in any of those waters could threaten multibillion-dollar regional economies that depend on clean oceans and coastlines,” said Reilly, who pointed out that Trump has called for reconsideration of the well control rule, which tightened controls on blowout preventers, which are designed to stop undersea oil and gas well explosions. That rule was based in part on findings of the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which Reilly co-chaired.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Despite President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, nonfederal entities are saying they will continue to fight climate change. Twelve states and Puerto Rico have formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, committing to uphold the global climate accord, and leaders of 211 cities have declared themselves “Climate Mayors,” promising to work toward the accord’s goals. Many of those same governors and mayors are among some 1,200 signatories, including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies and 170-plus universities, vowing to cut emissions (subscription) in an open letter released Monday to the international community.

“The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change,” said the letter. “Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.”

Going by the name “We Are Still In,” the coalition called itself “the broadest cross section of the American economy yet assembled in pursuit of climate action.”

On Tuesday, Bloomberg Philanthropies said it would work with the coalition’s governors, mayors and business leaders to quantify greenhouse gas reductions. Although the organization does not expect to send a formal submission to the United Nations, it will develop a “societal nationally determined contribution” (subscription).

Some legal scholars have warned that, depending on their nature, actions taken by states in the U.S. Climate Alliance and “We Are Still In” coalition could raise constitutional questions under the foreign affairs pre-emption doctrine or Compacts Clause (subscription).

The first test case may be Hawaii, which on Tuesday became the first state to pass state-specific legislation that claims to legally implement portions of the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change is real, regardless of what others may say,” said Hawaii Governor David Ige. “Hawaii is seeing the impacts first hand. Tides are getting higher, biodiversity is shrinking, coral is bleaching, coastlines are eroding, weather is becoming more extreme. We must acknowledge these realities at home.”

Ige signed Senate Bill 559, which “expands strategies and mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide,” and House Bill 1578, which aims to “identify agricultural and aquacultural practices to improve soil health and promote carbon sequestration—the capture and long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide to mitigate climate change.”

Post­–Paris U.S. Climate Change Efforts: What Happens Now?

In his Paris Agreement exit speech, Trump promised to “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or really an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.” But what concessions the United States could gain from a renegotiation are unclear, and attempts to forge a new deal may not have willing participants. In a joint statement issued an hour after Trump’s speech, Italy, Germany and France said “we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.”

Greenwire reported that legal experts say a future president could get the United States back into the Paris Agreement, from which the earliest official exit date would be November 4, 2020, in just 30 days under a process by accession (subscription).

In the meantime, at least one former Environmental Protection Agency head, William Reilly (who serves as chair of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Advisory Board), suggested that the United States should make a “clean break” from international climate talks.

“I think that the worst possible outcome here is to announce an intended withdrawal from the agreement but to continue to participate in the deliberations of the parties,” said Reilly, adding that the United States might attempt to “reduce the commitments or aspirations that are agreed to in future conferences of the parties” (subscription).

Fact Checkers Question President Trump’s Paris Agreement Exit Speech

President Donald Trump never mentioned science in his speech announcing America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (subscription). In an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, U.S. Environmental Protection head Scott Pruitt, a vocal critic of the pact, appeared to suggest that science played no role in the exit decision, insisting that the focus of discussions about a withdrawal was “on the merits and demerits of the Paris accord.”

Multiple media have highlighted inaccuracies in Trump’s presentation of the accord. The Washington Post noted that Trump’s case against the agreement—that it would hurt the U.S. economy and that it treated the United States unfairly—ignored the benefits that could come from tackling climate change, including potential green jobs, and misrepresented the nature of the agreement. Specifically, emissions reduction pledges reflect non-legally binding nationally determined plans and the reality that developed countries, on a per capita basis, often produce more greenhouse gases than developing countries.

A video posted by The New York Times on its website questioned many of Trump’s claims, one of which was that the agreement would in effect transfer coal jobs to China and India. In fact, the voluntary Paris agreement doesn’t stop Trump’s loosening of restrictions on coal, a U.S. industry in decline in large part because of domestic access to cheap and abundant natural gas—a just released U.S. Energy Information Administration report says coal consumption for electricity sank last year to its lowest level (subscription) since 1984. Although China is building relatively less-polluting coal plants because it lacks such access, it has canceled more than 100 coal plants and expects to peak its coal use before the 2030 date set forth in a pre-Paris climate agreement with the United States. In its Paris pledge, India committed to obtain 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took issue with the president’s statement that even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full, it would produce only a two-tenths of 1-degree Celsius (0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Although Trump did not name his source, Reuters reported that he was referring to a MIT study finding that if countries honored their Paris pledges, global warming would slow by between 0.6 degree and 1.1 degrees Celsius by 2100—not two-tenths of 1-degree Celsius. The point of the article, according to one of the author’s co-authors, was not to diminish the contribution of the agreement but to illustrate that further actions would be needed to avert catastrophic warming.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Slowing coal use in China and India has put the two most populous countries on a trajectory to beat their carbon emissions goals under the Paris Agreement, making up for rollbacks in U.S. climate action under the Trump administration, according to a new analysis released by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) at intersessional climate talks concluding today in Bonn, Germany.

China, which had pledged to peak its carbon emissions no later than 2030 and to sharply reduce them thereafter, has seen a coal consumption decrease over three consecutive years (2013 to 2016), a trend expected to continue. India, which had pledged to slow its emissions growth by expanding its renewables sector, has stated that its planned coal-fired power plants may not be needed. If it fully implements recently announced policies, its emissions growth would significantly slow over the next decade.

“Five years ago, the idea of either China or India stopping—or even slowing—coal use was considered an insurmountable hurdle, as coal-fired power plants were thought by many to be necessary to satisfy the energy demands of these countries,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, a CAT consortium member. “Recent observations show they are now on the way towards overcoming this challenge.”

So much so that they will compensate for the anticipated failure of the United States to make good on its pledge. Together, India and China will reduce projected global carbon emissions growth by 2 to 3 gigatons in 2030 compared to last year’s CAT projections—significantly outweighing the impact of the Trump administration’s proposed rollbacks in U.S. emissions reduction efforts, which the CAT analysis calculated at some 0.4 gigatons of extra carbon emissions each year by 2030.

“The highly adverse rollbacks of US climate policies by the Trump Administration, if fully implemented and not compensated by other actors, are projected to flatten US emissions instead of continuing on a downward trend,” said Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, a CAT consortium member.

According to the CAT analysis, meeting the U.S. pledge to lower its carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 levels by 2025 would require implementation of the full climate action plan outlined by the Obama administration—which along with the Clean Power Plan called for expanding clean energy, energy efficiency programs and advanced transportation technology. But even then, the analysis suggests, the United States would reduce emissions only 10 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Without the Clean Power Plan, emissions would fall just 7 percent below 2005 levels.

Clean Power Plan: EPA, Rule Foes Seek Abeyance; Rule Supporters, a Remand

Following last month’s Court of Appeals ruling that put lawsuits challenging the Clean Power Plan on hold for 60 days without deciding on the rule’s legality, the Trump administration on Monday asked the court to make that hold indefinite rather than remand the litigation—send it back—to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while it decides what to do with the rule. A remand would end a halt that the Supreme Court placed on the rule last year, allowing supporters to file a new lawsuit if the EPA repeals the Clean Power Plan, which under a March executive order, it is almost certain to do.

“Abeyance is the proper course of action because it would better preserve the status quo [the Supreme Court’s stay of the rule], conserve judicial resources, and allow the new Administration to focus squarely on completing its current review of the Clean Power Plan (‘the Rule’) as expeditiously as possible,” said the EPA brief. “Whereas abeyance would maintain the Supreme Court’s stay, a remand would raise substantial questions regarding the stay’s vitality,” it continued.

Foes of the rule also argued in favor of an indefinite hold on the litigation, writing in their own brief that “holding these cases in abeyance best protects Petitioners’ rights to judicial review and this Court’s ability to resolve challenges to the Rule should EPA ultimately not revise or rescind the Rule.”

Environmentalists, states, cities and power companies that support the Clean Power Plan, along with wind and solar industry associations, all filed briefs in favor of remand.

Environmental groups said placing the cases in long-term abeyance would violate basic administrative law principles—a point also made by cities and power companies that support the Clean Power Plan—and that remanding the cases would avoid an improper extension of the Supreme Court stay. In addition, they argued that the courts should rule on the merits of the lawsuits.

“While remand is preferable to abeyance,” states their brief, “the only appropriate path is to issue a merits decision. Withholding a merits decision now would waste massive resources that the agency, the public, the parties and the Court have invested, and would very likely introduce sprawling new chapters to the long history of delay in curtailing the grave health and environmental consequences of power plant carbon pollution.”

Renewable energy trade groups said sending the cases back to the EPA would ensure that the agency goes through “reasoned decisionmaking.”

Even though the Clean Power Plan is unlikely to survive in its current form, on Monday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a directive to state air regulators to write a plan to cap power plant emissions and to allow companies to swap allowances “through a multistate trading program,” much like the Clean Power Plan.

“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” McAuliffe said. “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void.”

The order seems to lean toward linking to or joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state cap-and-trade system for power generators in the Northeast.

Arctic Council Declaration Stops Short of Reaffirming Signatories’ Paris Agreement Pledges

Last week the eight member nations of the Arctic Council released a consensus declaration that included references to climate change but merely acknowledged the existence of the Paris Agreement rather than reaffirming members’ commitment to it—a concession sought by the U.S. delegation (subscription).

At the two-day ministerial meeting in Fairbanks, which concluded the council’s U.S. chairmanship, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reflected the Trump administration’s uncertain Paris Agreement stance, telling fellow council members that “In the United States we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change,” and adding that “We’re not going to rush to make a decision. We’re going to work to make the right decision for the United States.”

The joint agreement by the Arctic Council did not recommit its members to meet their pledges to the 2015 global accord to limit global warming increases.

In its preamble, the so-called Fairbanks Declaration merely noted “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation” and reiterated “the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

The U.S. State Department said the statement should not be construed to require U.S. action.

“The Fairbanks Declaration notes what Paris claims to be,” said a State Department official. “It does not obligate the U.S. to enforce it.”

The declaration referenced the Arctic’s fast-rising temperatures and their threat to the region, noting that “The Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average” and calling climate change “the most serious threat to Arctic biodiversity.”

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a Policy Forum article published in the journal Science, President Barack Obama says that the national policy trend toward a clean-energy economy is “irreversible” and that the trend will continue due to “the mounting economic and scientific evidence” of its value. The article points to the scientific case for actions on climate change, energy efficiency and emissions—the latest in a series of publications on different policy topics Obama has penned in academic journals, including the Harvard Law Review and the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The United States is showing that GHG [greenhouse gas] mitigation need not conflict with economic growth. Rather, it can boost efficiency, productivity, and innovation,” Obama writes in Science just days before President-Elect Donald Trump takes office Jan. 20. “Evidence is mounting that any economic strategy that ignores carbon pollution will impose tremendous costs to the global economy and will result in fewer jobs and less economic growth over the long term. Estimates of the economic damages from warming of 4°C over preindustrial levels range from 1 percent to 5 percent of global GDP each year by 2100.”

The article goes on to cover many of the environmental policies that Trump has said he may axe when he takes office, including the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Were the United States to step away from Paris, it would lose its seat at the table to hold other countries to their commitments, demand transparency, and encourage ambition,” Obama writes. “This does not mean the next administration needs to follow identical domestic policies to my administration’s. There are multiple paths and mechanisms by which this country can achieve—efficiently and economically—the targets we embraced in the Paris Agreement.”

Obama also discusses the struggles of the coal industry, offering that because the cost of new electricity generation using natural gas is projected to remain low relative to coal, “it is unlikely that utilities will change course and choose to build coal-fired power plants, which would be more expensive than natural gas plants, regardless of any near-term changes in federal policy.”

While it will take some time to evaluate which of Trump’s statements about environmental policy actually provide guiding points for how he will govern, The Hill takes a look at what Trump has promised to date on environment and how much might actually be accomplished on day one. At a press conference Wednesday, Trump said he planned to make a decision on his nominee for the Supreme Court within two weeks of taking office—a decision that would have implications for environmental policy.

Trump Transition: Tillerson Confirmation Hearing

The Senate confirmation hearing for Trump’s pick to lead the Department of State began early on Wednesday with conversation and questions about Russian relations. Nominated for the most senior U.S. diplomat position, one responsible for enacting the U.S. government’s foreign policy, the former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson told senators that relations with Russia could be improved under his leadership despite concerns over his ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

“We’re not likely to ever be friends,” Tillerson said, noting that the United States and Russia do not hold the same values. “With Russia, engagement is necessary in order to define what that relationship going to be. There is scope to define a different relationship that can bring down the temperature around the conflicts we have today.”

On the topic of climate change, Tillerson expressed that the “risk of climate change does exist and the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken.” But he added, “Our ability to predict that effect is very limited,” and precisely what actions nations should take “seems to be the largest area of debate existing in the public discourse.”

Tillerson said he viewed the issue primarily as an engineering problem and that Trump has “invited my views on climate change. “He knows I am on the public record with my views. I look forward to providing those, if confirmed, to him and policies around how the United States should carry it out in these areas.”

What else was discussed? Tillerson clarified, and appeared to reconfirm, his support for a carbon tax, and made comments about the importance of maintaining a seat at the table on how to address climate change with international treaties.

EIA: United States Could Become Energy Exporter

The United States has not been a net exporter of energy since 1953, but it could regain that status by 2026. That’s the finding of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2017, which makes energy market projections through 2050 for scenarios with a high oil price, high and low oil and gas resource and technology, and high and low economic growth as well as for a scenario in which the Clean Power Plan is not implemented. In most of those projections, natural gas production increases.

“Natural gas production, we think, is actually going to go up quite a bit, with relatively low and stable prices, so that’s going to support higher levels of domestic consumption, especially in the electric power and industrial sectors, where we think there will be quite a bit of natural gas use,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski.

He noted that technology advances are helping reduce the cost for both fossil fuel production and renewables.

“EIA’s projections show how advances in technology are driving oil and natural gas production, renewables penetration, and demand-side efficiencies and reshaping the energy future,” he said.

Across the scenarios in the report, projections for energy consumption are more consistent than those for production, whose growth is dependent on technology, resource, and market conditions. The EIA finds that although zero-carbon renewables are expected to grow faster than any other energy source over the next three decades, their increase is not likely to significantly help the United States reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement (subscription). Instead, energy-related carbon emissions will nearly flatline, falling from an annual rate of 1.4 percent between 2005 and 2016 to 0.2 percent between 2016 and 2040. That’s because carbon reductions from electricity plants’ switch from coal to natural gas and renewables will be offset by emissions from a growing chemical industry.

The fate of the Clean Power Plan will affect energy-related carbon emissions, according to the report (subscription), though not as much as greater use of renewables and natural gas. If the plan is rescinded or overturned, annual emissions would slightly increase to 5.4 billion metric tons through 2040. If the plan is implemented, those emissions would drop to 5 billion metric tons. The scenario without the Clean Power Plan has the highest greenhouse gas emissions, but such a scenario does not include a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, which the Clean Air Act currently appears to require. However, other avenues under the Clean Air Act may be used to pursue greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

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: Glacial Lakes Appearing in Antarctica

On August 25, 2016, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Antarctica is home to Earth’s largest ice mass, which unlike the Arctic remains frozen year round. But a new satellite-based study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows that atop the coastal Langhovde Glacier in East Antarctica’s Dronning Maud Land, large numbers of meltwater lakes have been forming.

The study suggests that the lakes—nearly 8,000 of them—appeared in the summer months between 2000 and 2013. Like lakes that have formed from the meltwater of ice sheets in areas such as Greenland, those in East Antarctica may affect rates and patterns of ice melt, ice flow and ice shelf disintegration.

“What we find is that the appearance of these lakes, unsurprisingly, is correlated directly with the air temperature in the region, and so the maximum number of lakes, and the total area of the lakes, as well as the depth of the lakes, all of these things peak when the air temperatures peak,” said Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist at Durham University in the U.K. and one of the study’s authors.

The concern is that the lakes’ meltwater will drain into the underlying ice, causing the ice sheet to weaken. The long-term effects are unknown, the authors say.

“We do not think that the lakes on Langhovde Glacier are at present affecting the glacier, but it will be important to monitor these in the future to see how they evolve with surface air temperature changes,” said lead study author Emily Langley of Durham University in the U.K.

Natural Gas Emissions to Edge Out Coal Emissions This Year

In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, released last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that for the first time since 1972 energy-associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from natural gas will surpass those from coal. Although natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal, its consumption has increased while coal consumption has decreased, leading to what the EIA expects will be 10 percent greater energy-related CO2 emissions from natural gas than from coal in 2016.

The EIA estimates that this year natural gas will fuel 34 percent of U.S. electricity generation, compared with 30 percent for coal. Last year, natural gas generated slightly less than 33 percent of electricity, and coal generated slightly more than 33 percent.

The EIA also noted that annual U.S. carbon intensity rates have been falling since 2005, in part because of increased consumption of low- or zero-carbon electricity from nuclear plants and renewables. Along with the decrease in coal consumption, the increase in non-fossil fuel consumption has reduced U.S. total carbon intensity from 60 MMmtCO2/quad Btu in 2005 to 54 MMmtCO2/quad Btu in 2015.

But the EIA’s emissions numbers do not reflect emissions of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas released by gas drilling and transport operations. The extent of methane emissions from oil and gas production and distribution is uncertain, complicating the climate impacts of switching from coal to gas. Once those emissions total more than 4 percent of total gas production, according to a study cited in Utility Dive, they begin to negate the climactic benefits of gas over coal.

Obama Uses Anniversary to Remind Country of Climate Change’s Threat to National Parks

As the United States marks the centennial of the National Park Service this week, its parks are being widely celebrated for their natural grandeur. But President Obama used the milestone as a reminder of the threat climate change poses to the parks in a video released Saturday.

“As president, I’m proud to have built upon America’s tradition of conservation. We’ve protected more than 265 million acres of public lands and waters—more than any administration in history,” said Obama.

“As we look ahead, the threat of climate change means that protecting our public lands and waters is more important than ever. Rising temperatures could mean no more glaciers in Glacier National Park. No more Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park. Rising seas could destroy vital ecosystems in the Everglades, even threaten Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.”

The National Park Service warns that today’s “rapid climate change challenges national parks in ways we’ve never seen before. Glaciers are retreating at an unprecedented rate, increasingly destructive storms threaten cultural resources and park facilities, habitat is disrupted—the list goes on.”

How is the National Park Service planning for climate change? The Atlantic reports that although parks have been slow to adapt their management practices, they are taking steps to cut emissions and educate the public about climate change and its effects. It reports that the visitors’ center at California’s Pinnacles National Park runs on electricity from solar panels, passenger vehicles are banned in Zion National Park during the summer, and at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, several beach restoration projects are in the works due to erosion caused partly by sea-level rise.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters finds that five of the uninhabitated Solomon Islands have submerged underwater and six more have experienced dramatic shoreline reductions due to man-made climate change. The study by a team of Australian researchers offers scientific evidence confirming anecdotal accounts of climate change impacts on Pacific islands. That evidence consists in part of radiocarbon tree dating and of aerial and satellite images of 33 islands dating back to 1947.

According to the study authors, the Western Pacific, where residents in many remote communities must constantly climb to higher elevations, is a hotspot for tracking sea-level rise.

The Solomon Islands have experienced nearly three times the global average of sea-level rise, 7–10 millimeters per year since 1993—rates consistent with those that can be expected across much of the Pacific in the second half of this century, reported Scientific American.

Previous research had attributed Pacific island shoreline changes to a mix of extreme events, seawalls, and inappropriate coastal development as well as sea-level rise. But the new study directly links island loss to climate-related phenomena.

Human disturbances, plate tectonics, hurricanes, and waves can mask the effects of climate change. So to hone in on those effects, the researchers studied islands with no human habitation—Nuatambu Island being the one notable exception.

“Rates of shoreline recession are substantially higher in areas exposed to high wave energy, indicating a synergistic interaction between sea-level rise and waves,” the study authors said. “Understanding these local factors that increase the susceptibility of islands to coastal erosion is critical to guide adaptation responses for these remote Pacific communities.”

U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fall But Global CO2 Concentrations Rise

Last year, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States fell 12 percent below 2005 levels as a result of electric power sector changes.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), which released the data, attributed the decline largely to “decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.” Such fuel use changes, the EIA reports, accounted for 68 percent of total energy-related carbon dioxide reductions from 2005 to 2015.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide concentrations at a remote Australia monitoring station—Cape Grim—are poised to hit a new high of 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide for the first time in a few weeks. Though that mark is largely symbolic, the United Nations suggests that concentrations of all greenhouse gases should not be allowed to peak higher than 450 ppm this century to maximize chances of limiting global temperature rise.

“We wouldn’t have expected to reach the 400 ppm mark so early,” said David Etheridge, an atmospheric scientist with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which runs the station. “With El Nino, the ocean essentially caps off its ability to take up heat so the concentrations are growing fast as warmer land areas release carbon. So we would have otherwise expected it to happen later in the year.”

The first 400 ppm milestone was hit in 2013 by a monitoring station in Mauna Loa. Cape Grim and Mauna Loa are among the stations that measure baseline carbon dioxide across the world. Their readings are unaffected by regional pollutions sources that would contaminate air quality.

Companies Relinquish Arctic Drilling Leases

Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips, and other major oil and gas companies have relinquished oil and gas leases worth approximately $2.5 billion and spanning 2.2 million acres of the Arctic Ocean.

The region is estimated to hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but tapping these resources has come at great risk for companies.

“Given the current environment, our prospects in the Chukchi Sea are not competitive within our portfolio,” said ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Natalie Lowman. “This will effectively eliminate any near-term plans for Chukchi exploration for the company.”

Marketplace reports that data secured through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Shell, ConocoPhillips, Eni and Iona Energy have renounced all but one of their leases in the Chukchi Sea—meaning 80 percent of all area in the American Arctic leased in a 2008 sale has or will be abandoned.

Shell Spokesman Curtis Smith said “After extensive consideration and evaluation, Shell will relinquish all but one of its federal offshore leases in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. Separate evaluations are underway for our federal offshore leases in the Beaufort Sea. This action is consistent with our earlier decision not to explore offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.”

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.

Majority Calls for More Ambitious Deal in Paris

On December 10, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

More than 100 countries, including the United States, Colombia, Mexico, and the European Union, have formed a “high ambition coalition” in an effort to secure a final agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. But members will not be satisfied with merely reaching a final agreement—they want an ambitious solution that includes a mechanism to review and raise countries’ emissions commitments every five years, that creates a unified tracking system to monitor countries’ progress on meeting their emissions goals, that recognizes the proposed 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature goal, and that contains a climate finance package.

“This is an ambition coalition,” said Giza Gaspar Martins, chair of the group of the 48 most vulnerable countries to climate change. “This is also a coalition that is open to recognizing the difficulties of others, because alone, we can’t achieve that high mitigation ambition that we have.”

European climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said the newly released draft text for the climate deal was not “bold enough, and not ambitious enough.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in address to the conference, echoed the need for a more in the final text. “We didn’t come to Paris to build a ceiling that contains all that we ever hope to do,” he said. “We came to Paris to build a floor on which we can and must altogether continue to build.”

Negotiations are now happening around the clock in the final days of the conference, set to wrap up Dec.11.  Nearly every country has declared discontent with the current draft, but none are rejecting the agreement either.

United States Attempts to Spur Momentum on Paris Talks with Funding Announcement

Yesterday the United States announced a doubling of the grant funding it provides to help developing countries adapt to climate change, a pledge that Reuters reports might help “clinch a climate pact.” The pledge announced by Secretary of State John Kerry is part of what the United States views as its contribution to a promise made in 2009 by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private money by 2020 to deal with impacts such as droughts, flooding, and sea level rise. The $860 million, which must be approved by Congress, would come from the State Department and Treasury budgets and would be distributed through both U.S. mechanisms, such as USAID, and multi-lateral systems like the Green Climate Fund.

“If we just continue down our current path, with too many people sitting on their hands and waiting for someone else to take responsibility, the damage is going to increase exponentially,” Kerry said. “To cut to the chase: Unless the global community takes bold steps now to transition away from a high-carbon economy, we are facing unthinkable harm to our habitat, our infrastructure, our food production, our water supplies, and potentially to life itself.”

The announcement appeared intended to give momentum to talks stalled by resistance by China and India to an outside monitoring system for emissions and to submission to a review process for pollution reduction plans.

“This impasse has slowed progress to a crawl, with the U.S. lacking leverage and China and India seemingly content to wait out the process,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton administration climate adviser who is attending the talks. “The decision to double U.S. adaptation funding itself is a strategic play to head off loss and damage calls by developing nations. This is why Kerry is pushing these lines right now.”

Study: Worldwide Carbon Emissions May Fall in 2015

As ministers work on a deal to cut post–2020 carbon emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that growth in those emissions has stalled, at least temporarily. Specifically, the authors say that in 2015 worldwide greenhouse gas emissions will fall, marking the first time they will have done so during a period of substantial economic growth. The reason? A decrease in coal consumption by China as well as increased use of renewables and decreased growth in demand for oil and gas. But it isn’t clear whether the decrease in China’s emissions is temporary due to the slowing economy or long-term due to changes in how the country consumes energy.

Using preliminary data through October 2015, the authors projected that total carbon emissions this year will be down by 220 million tons. But the decrease—0.6 percent—is so small that it may not be a decrease and could actually be a slight increase because of the margin of error. Nevertheless, the figure appears to mark a departure from an average annual growth of 2.4 percent over the last decade.

Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia and one of the paper’s authors, said that the Chinese think their emissions are going to rise, suggesting a resumption of an upward trajectory. Moreover, the emissions of India, which has emerged as a key player at the Paris talks, are likely to have risen 6.7 percent this year. The study authors warned that for global emissions to peak soon, part of India’s new energy—designed to spur economic growth and connect 300 million people to the grid—must come from low-carbon sources. And even more must be done to avoid dangerous climate change.

“Global emissions need to decrease to near zero to achieve climate stabilization,” said Le Quéré. “We are still emitting massive amounts of CO2 annually—around 36 billion tonnes from fossil fuels and industry alone. There is a long way to near zero emissions. Today’s news is encouraging, but world leaders at COP21 need to agree on the substantial emission reductions needed to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.”

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.

Paris Climate Talks Begin

On December 3, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: Dec. 7–11 we will present a series of special issues of The Climate Post featuring updates on climate negotiations and commentary from our staff in Paris.

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, world leaders on Monday suggested that stakes are too high to end negotiations on Dec. 11 without inking a climate deal that would limit global warming to two degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels—the U.N.-declared threshold for avoiding the most dangerous climate change impacts.

NPR reports that observers hope the deal will include three main items: agreement by countries to increase pledges in the future, a rigorous system of accountability to ensure nations keep those pledges, and support for poor countries to adopt low-carbon energy technologies.

A major sticking point for delegates of the nearly 200 countries meeting at the conference is the legal status of the treaty they hope to ink.

The Commonwealth and Europe have called for a deal to be legally binding. But the United States is looking to make only some aspects of it legally binding.

“Although the targets themselves may not have the force of treaties, the process, the procedures that ensure transparency and periodic reviews, that needs to be legally binding,” President Obama said in Paris. “…that’s going to be critical.”

Countries Pledge Financing for Clean Energy, Withdraw It for Coal

Another key negotiating point in Paris will be whether developing countries get enough financing to make the transition to clean energy worth it given the comparative cheapness of coal. In an announcement intended to give the U.N. climate talks momentum, the leaders of 19 nations, including the United States and many developing economies, on Monday pledged a doubling of clean energy spending to $20 billion in a deal with 28 corporate leaders (the so-called Breakthrough Energy Coalition spearheaded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates) who are putting up billions of their own (subscription).

According to a White House e-mail, the public component of the public-private agreement, known as Mission Innovation, is aimed at helping energy technologies “cross the investment ‘valley of death’” presented by their risk profiles and long return time horizons.

Brian Deese, White House climate adviser, said that Mission Innovation “should help to send a strong signal that the world is committed to helping to try to mobilize the resources necessary to ensure that countries around the world can deploy clean energy solutions in cost-effective ways.”

In an editorial for the Boston Globe, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz wrote that Mission Innovation and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition are “synergistic initiatives that establish clean energy innovation as a foundation for environmental stewardship, prosperity, security and social responsibility. Strong American leadership in these initiatives has provided a tremendous global leveraging opportunity, and innovation has remained common ground in our political discourse.”

Three questions raised by the initiatives are whether a multinational research effort combining public and private investments could entail intellectual property problems, how much of the newly pledged money might represent formerly pledged funding, and whether the future funding will be approved in national budgets.

In the lead up to the Paris talks, some of the countries that just committed financial support for clean energy signed on to a deal to severely cut funding for some prospective coal projects. A promise by China to control its support for high-carbon projects overseas—part of its most recent climate agreement with the United States—allowed Japan and the United States to develop a proposal that last month became a less stringent agreement by members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to curb public financing for coal plants (subscription). Under the policy, which goes into effect in 2017 and will be up for revision in four years, OECD countries will continue to provide export credits for “ultra-supercritical” coal-fired power plants—those constructed to meet the most stringent environmental standards—but public financing for 85 percent of coal plants going forward would effectively be cut off. The agreement does allow support for less efficient plants with a capacity under 500 megawatts in the world’s poorest countries.

House Votes to Block Power Plant Rules

The House approved, largely along party lines, to block the Obama administration’s measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The House voted 242–180 to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which would limit carbon emissions from existing power plants, and 235–188 to block EPA rules governing emissions from new power plants. The votes come just weeks after the Senate passed legislation blocking U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules that apply to new and existing power plants.

The resolutions now go to President Obama, who last month announced plans to veto them, claiming that they undermine public health protections of the Clean Air Act and “stop critical U.S. efforts to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.”

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.

SCOTUS Overturns Mercury Rule

On July 2, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision, ruled that the Clean Air Act required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to consider the costs of its Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) rule when determining whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury emissions from the power sector.

The MATS rule requires coal-burning power plants to reduce emissions of toxic pollutants by installing control technologies. The EPA estimated MATS would cost industry about $9.6 billion a year but cut coal and oil emissions by 90 percent and generate $37 billion in savings through “co-benefits.” Because these benefits are calculated on the basis of increased life expectancies and reduced health effects, the values have been subject to much of the debate.

“It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority. “Statutory context supports this reading.”

The Supreme Court did not dictate how the agency should address its ruling. It sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit for reconsideration of the rulemaking.

“EPA is disappointed that the court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance,” said EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison, noting the agency is reviewing the ruling.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Climate and Energy Program Director Jonas Monast notes that the immediate impact of the Supreme Court’s decision will likely be limited because electric utilities have already taken steps to comply with the regulation.

World’s Top Emitters Announce Climate Pledges

Three of the world’s 10 largest emitters of greenhouse gases—Brazil, China and the United States—announced new climate change commitments.

China made its intended nationally determined contribution to the United Nations, which calls to cut greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 60–65 percent from 2005 levels and obtain 20 percent of its energy from low-carbon sources in 2030 (11.2 percent now comes from such sources).

“China’s carbon dioxide emission will peak by around 2030 and China will work hard to achieve the target at an even earlier date,” said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

In a joint statement, the United States and Brazil pledged to source 20 percent of their electricity from non-hydropower renewable sources by 2030. Brazil also committed to restore a swath of forest 46,332 square miles—roughly the size of England—through policies that aim to tackle deforestation.

The commitments come just months before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where countries will work toward a global climate agreement. Brian Deese, senior White House climate adviser, said the announcement by the United States and Brazil “substantially elevates and builds” on climate progress and “should provide momentum moving into our shared objective of getting an agreement in Paris later this year.”

Alberta Doubles Carbon Fee, Moves on Climate-Policy Review

The Canadian province of Alberta last week announced it would double its carbon fee—the first to be levied by a North American jurisdiction—from C$15 to C$30 a metric ton and increase its emissions intensity reductions target from 12 to 20 percent by 2017 in an effort to curb greenhouse gases from industrial facilities, coal plants and oil-sands production. The government, which will also begin a climate-policy review to prepare recommendations ahead of the United Nations climate talks in Paris later this year, has said the province needs to be a leader in climate policy in order to support the oil-sands industry, long criticized for its environmental impact.

“If Alberta wants better access to world markets, then we’re going to need to do our part to address one of the world’s biggest problems, which is climate change,” said Environment Minister Shannon Phillips in announcing the news.

The carbon fee is levied on industrial facilities emitting more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year for emissions that exceed a facility’s emission intensity target. The levy was introduced in 2008, Alberta has collected fee revenues of $578 million, which it has put into a technology fund for initiatives that reduce emissions. Those 103 facilities have the option of reducing their emissions intensity, buying Alberta-based offsets to meet the intensity targets, or paying into that fund.

While Alberta’s fee is in support of an emissions intensity target rather than on total emissions, neighboring province British Columbia levies a broad-based carbon tax on emissions from most major sources and uses those tax revenues to largely fund tax cuts. A recent Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions-University of Ottawa analysis of that tax found that it was reducing emissions with little net impact, either negative or positive, on provincial economic performance.

The International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) welcomed the news that Alberta would extend its carbon fee measure, officially the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation, to December 31, 2017, the date on which Ontario will likely launch its emissions-trading market, “which is intended to link with those of California and Quebec,” according to IETA.

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.