The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A near record amount of coal-fired electricity is poised to go offline this year, according to recently released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Set to retire in the United States this year are some 13 gigawatts (GW) at more than a dozen units—that’s an amount second only to the nearly 15 GW of coal power shut down in 2015. The falling fortunes of coal are also evident in the EIA’s projections for its production: a decline from 773 million short tons last year to 759 million in 2018 and 741 million in 2019. By contrast, natural gas production is expected to match a record set in 1970.

According to the EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook, coal’s share of the electricity generation mix, which only a decade ago was close to 50 percent, is projected to fall below 30 percent this year. The primary reason? Cheap natural gas, which this year could see the largest single-year increase since 2004 with the addition of roughly 20 GW of new natural gas-fired power generation. The EIA expects these trends to continue in 2019, when it projects that gas-fired plants will generate 34 percent of the country’s electricity and coal, just 28 percent.

Inexpensive and plentiful natural gas is not the only factor influencing coal plant closures. Other factors, according to the EIA, are plant age and size—most coal plants retired since 2008 have been older and smaller than their competition—changes in regional electricity use, federal or state policies that affect plant operation, state policies that require or encourage the use of certain fuels, and improving competitive generation technologies.

Other EIA forecasts for 2018: nuclear power will provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity, non-hydropower renewables, nearly 10 percent; and hydropower, slightly less than 7 percent. U.S. wind power generation capacity will rise to 96 GW, up from about 88 GW in 2017, while solar power generation capacity will hit 50 GW, up from 43 GW last year.

Chatterjee, LaFleur Discuss FERC Order

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Neil Chatterjee said Tuesday that a new FERC investigation into grid resilience could take longer than the 90-day timeframe established by regulators last week when they unanimously rejected a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the Department of Energy (DOE) to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in the electricity markets FERC oversees.

FERC gave regional grid operators 60 days to detail how they could enhance grid resilience, after which other “interested entities” will have 30 days to reply—considerably faster than most major market reform discussions at FERC.

“One of the reasons I thought the record warranted the short-term [coal and nuclear payments] is … it’s going to take time to sort through this,” Chatterjee said during a panel discussion hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center where he and FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur discussed FERC’s Jan. 9 ruling as well as previewed the docket that the panel created to investigate regional transmission organizations (RTOs’) resilience practices. “I am under no illusion that this process will end in 90 days.”

Both Chatterjee and LaFleur were reluctant to prejudge the outcome of the proceeding or to speculate on the kind of responses that RTOs will give, but they stressed that they will continue to consider the country as a whole in making decisions to improve resiliency and reliability in the power sector. (subscription)

“We’ll see what comes forward in the docket,” said LaFleur, noting that it is possible that different proposals could come out of the different regions, which have unique challenges.

As Public Hearings Begin, Governors Voice Opposition to Offshore Drilling Plan

Ever since the Trump administration revealed a draft five-year plan that would expand oil drilling to previously protected areas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, governors of nearly every state on those seaboards—including South Carolina, Rhode Island, Oregon, California, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and North Carolina—have expressed opposition. Under the proposed plan, more than 90 percent of the continental shelf would be available for drilling rights and only one out of 26 planning areas across the three oceans and the Gulf of Mexico would be entirely off limits to oil drilling.

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been in talks with many of the coastal state governors since he agreed to exclude Florida from the plan days after its release. Governors and lawmakers have sent letters pointing to the importance of tourism as a reason to exclude their states from the plan—the tact taken by Florida’s governor.

“The long-term health of New York’s economy is inextricably linked to protecting our ocean resources,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in a letter to Zinke. “Much like Florida, New York’s ocean coast is unique and plays a vital role in our economy.”

Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage and other Gulf Coast governors who already have drilling off their shores are among those open to new exploration.

The proposal presently includes 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024 in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas. Among them: 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 in the Atlantic, and 7 in the Pacific.

This week, the public also began weighing in during the first of several meetings planned in the capitals of affected states.

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 five members of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday unanimously rejected a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the Department of Energy (DOE) to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in the electricity markets FERC oversees (subscription). Instead it opened a new proceeding in which it calls on regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) to submit information to FERC on certain resilience issues and concerns within 60 days (subscription).

Since Sept. 28, when DOE Secretary Rick Perry proposed mandating that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid, a broad array of power sector stakeholders have raised concerns about the legality and vagueness of the proposed rulemaking and the short timetable to implement it.

In voting against the DOE proposal, FERC found that neither the proposal nor comments on it revealed a problem with existing market rules.

“While some commenters allege grid resilience or reliability issues due to potential retirements of particular resources, we find that these assertions do not demonstrate the unjustness or unreasonableness of the existing RTO/ISO tariffs,” FERC wrote. “In addition, the extensive comments submitted by the RTOs/ISOs do not point to any past or planned generator retirements that may be a threat to grid resilience.”

FERC went on to note that even the DOE’s own grid reliability study, cited to justify the DOE proposal, “concluded that changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

FERC’s Jan. 8 order means electric grid operators must answer questions from the commission about how they define resilience, what they do to ensure it and how they evaluate threats to it.

Although FERC could issue a new order after receiving that information, The Washington Post suggests that the language in the current order would support the trend toward free competitive electricity markets.

One issue not raised in the debate, which centered on market concerns, was changes to the electric system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Researchers at Resources for the Future projected significant emissions increases and negative effects on social welfare had the DOE Notice of Proposed Rulemaking gone forward.

Trump Administration Unveils Plan to Vastly Increase Oil Drilling Off U.S. Shores

The Trump administration revealed a draft plan that would greatly expand oil drilling to areas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans that were previously protected.

“This is a start on looking at American energy dominance,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, adding that the proposal would make the United States “the strongest energy superpower” (subscription).

Previous administrations had largely limited offshore oil and gas production to the Gulf of Mexico, but Zinke’s proposal would make more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf open for leasing. His proposal includes 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024 in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas. Among them: 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 in the Atlantic, and 7 in the Pacific (some off the coast of California).

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” Zinke said (subscription). “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which would oversee the leasing process, will hold a 60-day public comment period on the plan.

Although embraced by oil and gas industry groups, the proposed plan is expected to face opposition from governors of many coastal states and many U.S. lawmakers.

On Tuesday, a group of 37 senators called the proposal “the height of irresponsibility” (subscription).

“This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry,” the senators wrote in a letter to Zinke.

The proposal follows an April 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump requiring that the Interior Department reconsider former President Barack Obama’s five-year offshore drilling plan.

If finalized, the proposal would reverse Obama’s ban on drilling on the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic, but, in addition to Florida waters which Zinke this week closed to drilling, it would keep off-limits the waters near Alaska’s far-western Aleutian Islands, which were protected by former President George W. Bush.

People’s Hearings on Clean Power Plan Begin

Several “people’s hearings” planned by states to discuss the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) repeal of the clean Power Plan took place in New York, Maryland and Delaware this week. Proposed to be repealed in October, the rule aimed to set state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants.

The hearings follow an announcement last month by the EPA that it will hold three more hearings on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan—in California, Wyoming and Missouri—after criticism for not conducting a transparent review process and previously holding only one public hearing over two days in Charleston, West Virginia.

Transcripts and comments associated with the hearings will be sent to the EPA as part of its rulemaking—EPA is presently taking input on what should replace the rule. In an interview with Reuters, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt listed replacement of the Clean Power Plan as one of his top 2018 priorities—alongside plans to greatly reduce EPA staff and rewrite the Waters of the United States rule.

“A proposed rule will come out this year and then a final rule will come out sometime this year,” Pruitt said of the Clean Power Plan’s replacement.

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

A study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that more than a quarter of Earth’s land will become significantly drier even if the world manages to limit warming to the Paris Agreement goal of less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Limiting the temperature rise to the agreement’s more ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce the amount of land affected.

“Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20–30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2 degrees C [Celsius],” said Manoj Joshi, study co-author from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. “But two-thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees C.”

According to the study, the regions that would most benefit from keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius are parts of South East Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, Central America and Southern Australia.

The study authors used projections from 27 global climate models to identify the areas of the world where aridity will substantially change when compared to current year-to-year variations. With a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, they found that between 24 percent and 32 percent of the Earth’s total land surface will become drier. At an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, only between eight percent and 10 percent of that surface becomes drier.

Aridification could dramatically increase the threat of widespread drought and wildfires. It is also a threat to agriculture, water quality and biodiversity, noted Chang-Eui Park, the study’s lead author from China’s Southern University for Sustainability and Technology.

Park likened the emergence of aridification to “a shift to continuous moderate drought conditions, on top of which future year-to-year variability can cause more severe drought. For instance, in such a scenario 15 percent of semi-arid regions would actually experience conditions similar to ‘arid’ climates today.”

Trump Administration Repeals Proposed Rules for Hydraulic Fracturing on Government Land

One day after a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reconsider it’s decision to overrule a lower court’s rejection of a proposed Obama-era rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rescinded the rule. Under the proposed rule, companies would have had to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, whereby pressurized water is pumped underground to break open hydrocarbon deposits to increase well productivity.

The rule had been scheduled to go into effect in 2015, but it was never implemented due to court challenges by energy industry groups and several oil- and natural gas-producing states, which argued the rule was over-reaching and duplicative of state requirements, as well as by environmentalists, who pointed to a need to regulate potential risks to groundwater.

“This final rule is needed to prevent the unnecessarily burdensome and unjustified administrative requirements and compliance costs of the 2015 rule from encumbering oil and gas development on Federal and Indian lands,” BLM wrote in the 26-page final rule.

The move took effect immediately on December 29, skipping the 30-day waiting period often incorporated into rollbacks.

Vogtle Nuclear Project Gets Green Light

Georgia’s Public Service Commission has voted unanimously to allow construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle to continue. Plagued by delays and escalating costs, the Vogtle reactors represent the only large-scale nuclear construction underway in the United States since abandonment of two reactors this summer by South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper. This week, Dominion Power bought SCANA and assumed these failed South Carolina nuclear project costs.

“The decision to complete Vogtle 3 & 4 is important for Georgia’s energy future and the United States,” said Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, in a statement. “The Georgia Public Service Commission has shown leadership in making this complex and difficult decision and recognized that the Vogtle expansion is key to ensuring that our state has affordable and reliable energy today that will support economic growth now and for generations to come.”

Co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, the reactors are presently scheduled to come online in 2021 (unit 3) and 2022 (unit 4).

The commission attached conditions to its approval of the Vogtle completion, including a lower return on equity for Georgia Power; more money returned to ratepayers; and the possibility of re-examining the project if Congress doesn’t extend a production tax credit for nuclear power past a 2021 expiration date.

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

Over the last decade, market upheavals and the technological advances underpinning them have placed pressure on existing electric generation units and driven deployment of non-baseload generation, creating significant uncertainty about existing business and regulatory models. This uncertainty calls into question the fate of nuclear. The Georgia Public Service Commission on Monday said it will decide December 21 whether to allow construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Plant Vogtle site to proceed or to call for the project to be canceled. Plagued by delays and escalating costs, the Vogtle reactors represent the only large-scale nuclear construction underway in the United States since abandonment of two reactors this summer by South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper.

Those earlier plant cancellations and the looming Vogtle decision highlight the uncertain future of the U.S. nuclear industry. As much as 90 percent of nuclear power could disappear over the next 30 years if existing units retire at 60 years of operation—the current maximum length of operating licenses. A study by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions explores how the potential loss of existing nuclear plants in the Southeast interacts with the region’s other electricity sector challenges—among them, increasing natural gas dependence, demand uncertainty, and emerging technology—and proposes steps states can take to address these challenges.

Nuclear plants, along with coal plants, would get a boost in wholesale power markets if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves a proposal by Department of Energy Secretary Rick that would mandate that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid. Proposed by Perry on September 28, the directive to FERC to change its rules was set to expire this week, but Perry has granted FERC 30 more days to make a decision on the proposal.

The extension request, made by newly sworn-in FERC chairman Kevin McIntyre, divulged that the agency’s public comment request resulted in more than 1,500 pieces of feedback from a wide array of energy stakeholders.

“[T]he Commission has sworn in two new members within the last two weeks. The proposed extension is critical to afford adequate time for the new Commissioners to consider the voluminous record and engage fully in deliberations,” McIntyre wrote in the letter to Perry.

Studies: Arctic Warming Unprecedented; Most Accurate Climate Models Predict Greatest Warming 

Two new studies point to the accelerating threat of climate change. One, an annual assessment of the Arctic released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), finds that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, a pace that holds national security and economic implications. The other, a study comparing the results of simulations from multiple climate models to satellite observations of the actual atmosphere, finds that climate models predicting the greatest warming are more accurate than those predicting less warming.

According to the Arctic Report Card, 2017 was the second-warmest year on record in the Arctic, behind 2016; sea ice maximum set a new record low; and the permafrost rapidly warmed. Most worrying to scientists, though, was the pace of change.

“The current observed rate of sea ice decline and warming temperatures are higher than at any other time in the last 1,500 years, and likely longer than that,” the report states.

The changes will affect the entire planet, but especially the Northern Hemisphere, by altering weather patterns, leading to reduced wind power and increased drought.

“The changes that are happening in the Arctic will not stay in the Arctic,” said co-author Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program. “These changes will impact all of our lives. They will mean living with more extreme weather events, paying higher food prices and dealing with the impacts of climate refugees.”

The NOAA report comes on the heels of a study published in the journal Nature suggesting that international policy makers and authorities are relying on projections that underestimate future warming—and, by extension, are underestimating the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to avert catastrophic climate change. According to that study, global warming projections for the end of the century could be up to 15 percent higher than previously thought.

“The basic idea is that we have a range of projections on future warming that came from these climate models, and for scientific interest and political interest, we wanted to narrow this range,” said study co-author Patrick Brown of the Carnegie Institution for Science. “We find that the models that do the best at simulating the recent past project more warming.”

According to the study, global temperatures could rise nearly 5 degrees Celsius by century’s end under the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s business-as-usual prediction for greenhouse-gas concentrations. Moreover, the analysis increases the odds that temperatures will rise more than 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, placing odds at 93 percent, up from 62 percent.

Clean Power Plan Alternative; More Hearings on Horizon

During his first congressional hearing since taking office in February, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that he is working on a replacement to the Clean Power Plan. Proposed to be repealed in October, the rule aimed to set state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants. No new details about the replacement rule were pressed for by the six subcommittee members, however.

If the EPA does not issue a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, it could hint that Pruitt might open up a legal battle over the 2009 carbon endangerment finding. During the hearing, Pruitt hinted that he may be skeptical of the analysis backing the finding, which found that greenhouse gases endangered public health and welfare and required the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“In fact there was something done in 2009 that in my estimation has never been done since and was never done before,” said Pruitt. “[The EPA] took work from the U.N. [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC] and transported it to the agency and adopted it as the core of the finding.”

But as ClimateWire reported, the finding was informed not only by reports from the IPCC, but also from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, U.S. Climate Change Science Program and National Research Council as well as studies and reports from other independent research groups. In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rebuffed a criticism that the EPA had “improperly delegated its judgment” to the IPCC and other organizations in the endangerment finding.

In written testimony submitted to the subcommittee, Pruitt elaborated the three goals of his Back to Basics agenda: “Refocus the Agency back to its core mission. Restore power to the states through cooperative federalism. Lead the Agency through improved processes and adhere to the rule of law.”

Following Pruitt’s subcommittee hearing, this week, the EPA announced it will now hold three more hearings on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan—in California, Wyoming and Missouri—after the EPA was criticized for not conducting a transparent review process and holding only one public hearing over two days in Charleston, West Virginia.

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

A new report from Moody’s outlines how the credit rating agency will evaluate the impact of climate change in its ratings for state and local bond issuers. The report warns cities and states to prepare for climate change or face increased difficulty maintaining or obtaining higher credit ratings.

Ratings from Moody’s also help determine interest rates on bonds issued by cities to fund roads, buildings and other civic projects. Cities not adequately preparing for climate change, then, may face higher rates.

“The interplay between an issuer’s exposure to climate shocks and its resilience to this vulnerability is an increasingly important part of our credit analysis, and one that will take on even greater significance as climate change continues,” the report notes.

Moody’s uses six indicators to assess exposure to the physical climate change, including hurricanes and extreme-weather damage as a share of the economy, and the share of homes in a flood plain.

Moody’s identifies Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas as the states most at risk for damage from climate change. It says it will assess both a city’s ongoing risk from climate trends and climate shock from extreme weather events such as natural disasters, floods and droughts.

“What we want people to realize is: If you’re exposed, we know that. We’re going to ask questions about what you’re doing to mitigate that exposure,” said Lenny Jones, a managing director at Moody’s. “That’s taken into your credit ratings.”

Mayors Sign Climate Charter

More than 50 North American cities signed the Chicago Climate Charter Tuesday during the North American Climate Summit in Chicago, where former President Barack Obama spoke, calling cities, states and nonprofit groups “the new face of leadership” on climate change.

“Obviously we’re in an unusual time when the United States is now the only nation on Earth that does not belong to the Paris agreement,” Obama said. “And that’s a difficult position to defend. But the good news is that the Paris agreement was never going to solve the climate crisis on its own. It was going to be up to all of us.”

The mayors, who attended the summit hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, hailed from cities across North America, including Mexico City, San Francisco and Phoenix.

“Climate change can be solved by human action,” said Emanuel (subscription). “We lead respectively where there is no consensus or directive out of our national governments.”

The charter calls for mayors to achieve a percent reduction in carbon emissions at least as stringent as the Paris Agreement; to quantify, track and report emissions; to support flexibility for cities to take action on climate issues; and to incorporate climate issues into emergency planning, among other provisions.

The charter also calls for cities to work with scientific and academic experts to find solutions. Some mayors have specifically agreed to commitments to expand public transportation and invest in natural climate solutions such as tree canopy and vegetation.

Study: Melting Arctic Sea Ice Will Lead to Increased Drought in California

Scientists have linked rapidly melting Arctic sea ice to warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels. Now new research shows it could also reduce rainfall in California, worsening future droughts in the state. By mid-century, according to a study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, loss of ice in the Arctic and warming temperatures there could drop California’s 20-year median for rainfall by as much as 15 percent.

“Sea-ice loss of the magnitude expected in the next decades could substantially impact California’s precipitation, thus highlighting another mechanism by which human-caused climate change could exacerbate future California droughts,” the study says.

The authors describe a series of meteorological events that lead to formation of storm-blocking air masses in the North Pacific—masses similar to the so-called Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, a nickname given to the persistent region of atmospheric high pressure that occurred over the Northeastern Pacific Ocean that kept rain from making landfall during California’s 2012–2016 drought. Although the study doesn’t attempt to explain that drought, its lead author, climate scientist Ivana Cvijanovic said it could help scientists understand future weather patterns.

“The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what the sea-ice-driven precipitation decline could look like,” she said.

Previous studies hypothesized that the North Pacific atmospheric ridge is due to increased ocean surface temperatures and heat circulation in the tropical Pacific. The new study elaborates on that understanding by describing the relation of Arctic sea-ice loss and tropical convection.

The authors say large-scale warming of the Arctic surface and lower atmosphere affects the way heat travels from Earth’s lower latitudes into the Arctic, in turn causing circulation changes in the deep tropics that eventually boost the buildup of a giant high-pressure system, like the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, off the California coast. In normal winters, high and low-pressure systems alternate. But when there’s a ridge, the wet and wintry Pacific storms instead slide north.

“We should be aware that an increasing number of studies, including this one, suggest that the loss of Arctic sea ice cover is not only a problem for remote Arctic communities, but could affect millions of people worldwide,” said Cvijanovic.

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 Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board recently unanimously approved draft regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants and to link the state with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state carbon cap-and-trade program, in 2019. The draft plan aims to cap emissions from the state’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and to reduce them 30 percent by 2030.

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

The draft rule proposes two starting levels for Virginia’s carbon cap: 33 million or 34 million tons, starting in 2020—decreasing by roughly 3 percent each year. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality aims to finalize and present the rule to the air control board for final approval next year.

The rule, which is expected to deliver a boost to renewable and energy efficiency in the state, could increase average residential bills by about 1 percent, commercial bills by 1.1 to 1.4 percent, and industrial bills by 1.3 to 1.7 percent by 2031, according to modeling work conducted on behalf of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

New Jersey, a state that Gov. Chris Christie withdrew from RGGI in 2011, is expected to rejoin the group when Gov.-elect Phil Murphy takes office.

EPA Holds Hearing on Repeal of Clean Power Plan

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted a two-day hearing in West Virginia this week on its proposal to terminate the Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state reduction targets for power plants. The West Virginia hearing is the only one of its kind scheduled on the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, though written public comments are being accepted by the EPA through Jan. 16.

Finalized by the EPA in 2015, the plan sought to reduce emissions from power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. But the Supreme Court stayed the plan after energy-producing states sued the EPA, saying it had exceeded its legal reach.

More than 250 people were signed up to present opposing and supporting views for the plan’s repeal, as speakers delivered comments simultaneously in three hearing rooms.

In the heart of coal country, there were many coal supporters who said the Clean Power Plan would cost utilities billions of dollars, raise energy bills and result in the loss of coal mining jobs. Others spoke out against the repeal, citing concerns over health and the acceleration of climate change if the plan did not take effect.

Trump Administration Issues Permit for Arctic Drilling

For the first time in two years, the federal government issued a permit to for drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The permit allows the Italian oil and natural gas company Eni U.S. Operating Company Inc. to begin exploratory drilling from a man-made island off Oliktok Point in the Beaufort Sea as soon as next month.

“Achieving American energy dominance moved one step closer today with the approval of Arctic exploration operations on the Outer Continental Shelf for the first time in more than two years,” said the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Just weeks before leaving office, former President Barack Obama used the rarely invoked Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to ban new offshore leasing in large swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. But the Trump administration has worked to reverse that and other rules reining in the energy sector—issuing an executive order in April to review the Obama plan.

Granting of the permit to Eni comes as the Trump administration considers opening up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. The Senate Budget Committee approved the measure Tuesday in a 12–11 party line vote.

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

This week, signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) meet in Bonn, Germany, to discuss implementation of the Paris Agreement, a global treaty that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Before the meeting wraps up Nov. 17, signatories hope to lay the groundwork for the conclusion of the Paris agreement terms at COP24 in Poland, including rules on transparency, accounting, markets, and resilience.

“The conference in Bonn is a preparatory meeting for the next COP in Poland, where the fine print of the Paris Agreement will be decided,” said Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the German environment ministry. “In a nutshell, it’s about shaping the transparency rules on how states measure and report their progress in climate mitigation. The Paris Agreement is built as a bottom-up structure, where the [parties] themselves decide the contributions they can and want to make. This is why it’s most important to make sure that every party abides by their own targets and honestly reports about their efforts and results. So even though it’s very hard to communicate this to the public, the negotiations in Bonn are actually about the heart of the Paris Agreement.”

Since COP23 kicked off Nov. 6, two holdouts from the 2015 Paris Agreement signing—Syria and Nicaragua—have become signatories. That leaves the United States as the only country in the world not supporting the deal to limit global greenhouse gas emissions. President Donald Trump announced in June that the U.S. would withdraw from the climate agreement, a process that will be complete in 2020.

A significant focus at the COP23 is actions of cities, states, and other subnational actors that are stepping up to address climate change. Later this week, California Gov. Jerry Brown, together with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, will release a new report highlighting the progress of U.S. states, cities, and businesses in addressing climate change.

U.S. states, such as California, are signaling even further climate action. Brown proposed linking his state’s carbon market with the European Union’s and announced plans to cooperate on market design and implementation in Brussels, Tuesday.

“I would hope that we could explore linking California and the European Union,” Brown said. “We are already linked with Quebec. We are about to be joined by Ontario. Other states are also considering joining. That would be a concrete investment kind of move that California and other states and provinces could become a part of.”

Study Finds Strong Link Between Climate Change and Human Activities

A scientific report, released last week, says that it is “extremely likely” the use of fossil fuels and human activities are the main cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization. According to that report, a global average temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 115 years has led to record-breaking weather events and temperature extremes.

“It is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” says the Climate Science Special Report, part of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

The assessment, mandated every-four-years by the Global Change Research Act, analyzes human and naturally caused global changes and their effects on everything from agriculture and energy production to human health. Produced by 13 federal agencies and peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, it is the United States’ most definitive statement on climate change science.

The Climate Science Special Report affirms that the United States is already experiencing more extreme heat and rainfall events and larger wildfires in the West, but sea-level rise may be the clearest evidence of climate change. More than 25 coastal U.S. cities are experiencing increased flooding, and seas could rise by from 1 to 4 feet by the year 2100. A rise of more than eight feet is “physically possible” with high emissions of greenhouse gases. Of the rapidly escalating levels of those gases in the atmosphere, the report states, “there is no climate analog for this century at any time in at least the last 50 million years.”

The report cautions that current climate models are likelier to underestimate future warming than to overestimate it. Although those models have accurately predicted the past few decades of warming, they may fail to capture how warm Earth can get. Researchers may not fully understand climate tipping points—difficult-to-predict points of no return.

Trump USDA Nominee Withdraws from Consideration

Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s pick for chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture, withdrew himself from consideration for the post. Clovis, whose nomination hearing was scheduled for this month, blamed the political tone in Washington for his decision in a letter to Trump.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis wrote.

The professor and conservative radio talk show host from Iowa, who served as national co-chair of Trump’s campaign, had come under fire after foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty to charges related to brokering of a relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Clovis was also scrutinized for his climate change skepticism and lack of an advanced science degree, a 2008 farm bill requirement of appointees to the position.

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

As the United Nations prepares to welcome delegates from across the world to Bonn, Germany, on Monday for the annual Conference of Parties meeting (COP23), the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) has released its yearly “Emissions Gap” report indicating a disparity between the world’s stated ambitions on climate in the Paris Agreement and what actions are actually needed.

The report indicates the present national pledges under the agreement are only one third of the reduction in emissions required by 2030 to meet targets, which aim to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The pledges by countries, it says, would lead to temperature rises of as much as 3 degrees Celsius or more by the end of this century, but it would make the chance of getting to 4 degrees Celsius or more of warming considerably smaller.

Although the gap between commitments could be large, the report suggests that it is still possible to close it in a cost-effective way. A large portion of reductions come from six specific efforts: solar energy; wind energy; efficient appliances; efficient passenger cars; aforestation; and stopping deforestation.

“These six categories sum up a potential of 18.5 GtCO2e in 2030 (range: 15-22 GtCO2e), making up more than half of the basic potential,” the report says. “Equally important, all these measures can be realised at modest cost, and are predominantly achievable through proven policies.”

What about the U.S.—the second largest emitter—not honoring its Paris Agreement commitment? Even though President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement this summer, the chances are good we can live up to the emissions reductions promised suggests UNEP Director Erik Solheim. “In all likelihood, the United States of America will live up to its Paris commitment, not because of the White House, but because of the private sector,” said  Solheim. “All the big American companies are dedicated to go in the green direction.”

Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach New High in 2016

The carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere rose higher than it’s been in 800,000 years—145 percent of pre-industrial levels, according to a new report. The U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin that a strong El Niño event and human activity contributed to the increase of CO2 concentrations—403.3 parts per million last year, up from 400 in 2015.

“Without rapid cuts in COand other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet. COremains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. The laws of physics mean that we face a much hotter, more extreme climate in the future.”

The study uses monitoring by ships, aircraft and weather stations on land to track emissions trends since 1750. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it said, is now increasing 100 times faster than at the end of the last ice age due to population growth, intensive agriculture, deforestation and industrialization.

Measures to mitigate climate change must be taken, the report warns, including work to develop renewable energy and transportation systems.

Studies Assess Cost and Effects of Climate Change

A report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s auditing arm, urges the Trump administration to take climate change risks seriously and begin formulating a response. The office analyzed the financial costs of extreme weather events and wildfires in the United States, finding that these events have cost the government more than $350 billion over the past 10 years.

“The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses,” indicates the study, which drew on interviews with 26 scientific and economic experts and 30 studies over two years to draw its conclusion. “By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks.”

A separate study by a leading medical journal, The Lancet, focused on the impacts and cost of weather-related disasters and a warming climate.

“Between 2000-2016, there has been a 46 percent increase in the number of weather-related disasters, and 125 million adults aged over 65 were exposed to heat waves,” the journal indicated. “Increasing temperatures have led to around 5.3 percent loss in labor productivity, and economic losses linked to climate-related extreme weather events were estimated at $129 billion in 2016.”

The Lancet study cites a number of ways climate change is already affecting health—heat waves, mass migrations, infectious diseases, economic problems, natural disasters and malnutrition.

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.

IEA: Universal Energy Access Achievable by 2030

On October 26, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A new analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the number of people without electricity fell from 1.6 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2016—and that the most cost-effective strategy for lowering that number is compatible with the demands of global climate change goals. The analysis, which looked at 140 developing countries, concludes that universal energy access is possible by 2030 and that solar technology will be the linchpin of the effort.

“Providing electricity for all by 2030 would require annual investment of $52 billion per year, more than twice the level mobilized under current and planned policies,” the IEA analysis reports. “Of the additional investment, 95% needs to be directed to sub-Saharan Africa. In our Energy for All Case, most of the additional investment in power plants goes to renewables. Detailed geospatial modeling suggests that decentralized systems, led by solar photovoltaic in off-grid systems and mini-grids, are the least-cost solution for three-quarters of the additional connections needed in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Although coal supplied 45 percent of energy access between 2000 and 2016, its role in new access will shrink to 16 percent, according to the report. Meanwhile, renewables are poised to take the leading role, growing from 34 percent of the supply over the last five years to 60 percent by 2030. The reason: they are becoming cheaper, and the hardest-to-reach people live where off-grid solutions offer the lowest cost.

The biggest gains in access will be experienced by developing countries in Asia, particularly India, which could achieve universal energy access by 2020. But 674 million people, nearly 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa, will remain without electricity even after 2030, the report said.

The IEA report underscores the central role of energy in meeting human and economic development goals. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 by 193 countries is to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030.

PJM Opposed to Department of Energy Directive

More than 500 comments—some hundreds of pages long—were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by Monday’s deadline following Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s September directive to FERC to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in wholesale power markets. The change proposed by Perry would mandate that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid.

The largest grid operator, the PJM Interconnection, in comments asked regulators to reject the directive, calling the plan “unworkable.”

“I don’t know how this proposal could be implemented without a detrimental impact on the market,” said Andrew Ott, who heads up PJM Interconnection, noting that PJM feels Perry’s proposal is “discriminatory” and inconsistent with federal law.

Ahead of Monday’s comment period, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute hosted a webinar for state regulators explaining the legal and market implications of Perry’s directive.

FERC is allowing to Nov. 7 for parties to file responses to the initial comments.

Senate Committee Approves Trump EPA Nominees

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a 11 to 10 party line vote, on Wednesday advanced President Donald Trump’s nomination of Michael Dourson and William Wehrum to the full Senate where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can schedule a vote for confirmation. Dourson, a University of Cincinnati professor, longtime toxicologist and former EPA employee, is being considered to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office of chemical safety and pollution prevention. Wehrum, who currently serves as partner and head of the administrative law group at Hunton & Williams—a practice focused on air quality issues—is slated for the post of assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of air and radiation.

The two nominees were questioned at a confirmation hearing Tuesday where much focus was placed on Dourson’s post as a special advisor at the EPA and his duties associated with that role. Committee Democrats questioned whether Dourson was violating the law by working at the EPA prior to being confirmed.

“Your appointment creates the appearance, and perhaps the effect, of circumventing the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent responsibility for the position to which you have been nominated,” 10 Democrats wrote in a letter to Dourson, warning that it would be “unlawful” for him to assume the duties of the position to which he’s been nominated.

Wehrum’s hearing, which was held earlier this month, focused in part on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—a program managed by the office of air and radiation.

“The RFS is a very complex program, and there are extensive provisions within the law that govern how it should be implemented, and even more extensive regulations that EPA has adopted,” Wehrum said. “So, I have to say I know a bit about the RFS. I don’t know everything about the RFS. So, I said this before, but I really mean it. If confirmed, part of what I need to do is fully understand the program and part of what I need to do is fully understand your concern, and I commit to you that I will do that senator.”

The other nominees approved by the committee are Matthew Leopold for assistant administrator for the Office of General Counsel, and David Ross, for the Office of Water.

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.

Trump Nominates CEQ Lead

On October 19, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump last week nominated Kathleen Hartnett White, a former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) commissioner, to serve as head of the Council on Environmental Quality. If confirmed, White who is presently a distinguished senior fellow in residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, would head a key White House office that coordinates environmental and energy policies across the government.

Prior to Governor Rick Perry’s appointment of White to the TCEQ in 2001, she served as then Gov. George Bush’s appointee to the Texas Water Development Board. She has served on the Texas Economic Development Commission and the Environmental Flows Study Commission and sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Regulatory Science, the Texas Emission Reduction Advisory Board, and the Texas Water Foundation.

Nomination of White, originally a contender to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seems to follow the pattern of other Trump cabinet members: she denies climate change and has questioned the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At the Texas Public Policy Foundation, White works on the Fueling Freedom project, which seeks to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels.” In a Q&A with the Orlando Sentinel she discussed the superiority of fossil fuels over renewables.

“At this point in time, there are no alternative energy sources capable of providing the endless goods and services that fossil fuels now handily provide,” said White. “Our abundant, concentrated, affordable, versatile, reliable, storable and controllable energy from fossil fuels is far superior to renewable energy . . . Adding more and more variable, uncontrollable renewables to the electric grid will serve only to necessitate backup power from reliable coal or natural gas to stabilize the mix.”

FERC Chairman Speaks on Department of Energy Directive

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry has received criticism from lawmakers and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) staff following last month’s proposal that FERC establish reliability and resilience pricing for certain power plants in regional trading organization markets.

“This proposal is just a first step in seeking to ensure that we truly have an energy policy that first and foremost protects the interests of the American people,” Perry told the House Energy Subcommittee about the change that would mandate increased payments for plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies. “Following the recommendations of the Staff Report, the department is continuing to study these issues and, if, necessary, will be prepared to make a series of additional recommendations to improve the reliability and resiliency of the grid.”

Neil Chatterjee, acting FERC chairman, pledged not to “blow up the market” as FERC acts in the prescribed 60-day window on the proposed rule, which would benefit coal and nuclear plants and which some have said could upset decades of electricity market reform.

Chatterjee suggested to GreenWire that FERC could do an advance notice of proposed rulemaking or a notice of proposed rulemaking superseding the DOE proposal. FERC could also extend the comment period, convene technical conferences, or initiate Federal Power Act Section 206 review proceedings.

“There are many tools available to the commission to act within 60 days to address and put a process in place … determining whether or not there are attributes that need to be properly valued, in a legally defensible manner, that doesn’t blow up markets,” Chatterjee said.

The proposal adds complexity to ongoing discussions of whether and how FERC-regulated wholesale electricity markets should evolve in light of a changing generation mix and evolving state policy objectives. In recent years, some states have sought to subsidize some generation sources to meet their particular energy and environmental goals, raising questions about what such policies mean for FERC-regulated wholesale markets. Last month the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions hosted a workshop examining challenges and recent proposals for harmonizing state policies and regional market design in the PJM region.

Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley Pipelines Approved

FERC has issued separate orders granting approval permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in two 2–1 votes. The two projects are among a collection of pipeline projects proposed or under construction that are intended to take advantage of the Marcellus gas boom, but they are not without critics.

FERC rejected calls for more public comment on the proposals, writing “all interested parties have been afforded a full complete opportunity to present their views to the commission.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would run through West Virginia and is proposed to span 303 miles and cost $3.7 billion.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5 billion project by Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, will carry gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and eight counties in eastern North Carolina, crossing 600 miles of the Southeast to transport about 1.5 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas to customers in North Carolina and Virginia.

“Natural gas from the pipeline will increase consumer savings, enhance reliability, enable more renewable energy and provide a powerful engine for statewide economic development and job growth,” said Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good. “It also supports our plan to produce cleaner energy through newer, highly-efficient natural gas plants and allows more capacity for Piedmont Natural Gas to serve new homes and businesses.”

Cheryl LaFleur was the dissenter, highlighting the projects’ potential environmental impacts.

“I recognize that the Commission’s actions today are the culmination of years of work in the pre-filing, application, and review processes, and I take seriously my decision to dissent,” LaFleur wrote in a statement. “I acknowledge that if the applicants were to adopt an alternative solution, it would require considerable additional work and time. However, the decision before the Commission is simply whether to approve or reject these projects, which will be in place for decades. Given the environmental impacts and possible superior alternatives, approving these two pipeline projects on this record is not a decision I can support.”

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.

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