States, Studies React to EPA Rule Release

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study: Agricultural Emissions Can Be Curbed

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

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

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

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

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

Crude Oil Production to Increase

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

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

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


Heated Discussion about Energy in Second Presidential Debate, but No Mention of Climate

October 18, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Next to jobs and the economy, the National Journal reports, no other issue has dominated this year’s election as much as energy because it’s a proxy for many other things (subscription). “Energy has not been this big an issue in a presidential campaign since the tumultuous years of the 1970s,” when the Arab oil embargo raised gasoline prices and had Americans waiting in lines at the pump around the country, said Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning energy historian. Six major energy issues are a focus—oil, hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, nuclear, renewable energy and coal—with their views shaping two very different energy industries.

In the second of three presidential debates Tuesday Barack Obama and Mitt Romney revisited several aspects of energy policy in a night of one-liners and disagreements about the issue and many others, such as taxes, measures to reduce the deficit, pay equity for women and health care. Climate change, however, didn’t even make it off the debate moderator’s list of prepared questions. Mother Jones called climate change the “big loser” in the debate, while MSNBC likened the candidates’ failure to mention it in their remarks about energy to not mentioning cancer in a discussion about smoking. Compared to their first debate Oct. 3, much more of their 90 minutes was spent on energy.

Candidates argued about who was the bigger friend to the coal industry and weighed how government could influence gasoline prices—though many factors other than administrative policy tend to influence prices according to the Federal Trade Commission. Among the more heated energy-focused exchanges was one about oil and gas production on federal lands. Romney claimed production on these lands has decreased, while Obama maintained the assertions weren’t true. A check of the facts by NBC indicates these claims may have been slighted skewed. “Oil production did fall by 14 percent on federal lands—onshore and offshore—but that was only in one year, from 2010 to 2011,” NBC writes. “And it was mainly the result of the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. But Obama is correct, that since he took office, oil production on federal lands is up.” This wasn’t the only factoid snafu for these two candidates. Early on, Obama misstated the length of time oil production had risen and each took a few other things out of context.

Supercomputer to Give New Push for Climate Research

Widespread drought has put increasing pressure on global food supplies, allowing reserves to reach their lowest levels in nearly 40 years, which could trigger a food crisis in 2013. A new supercomputer—capable of crunching 1.5 quadrillion calculations per second—just may be able to help scientists improve our understanding of everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to tsunamis, air pollution and the location of water beneath the earth’s surface. TIME claims it can narrow down the 60-square-mile units used in climate change modeling today to just seven-square-mile-tranches—zooming in on the movement of everything from raindrops to wind.

Researchers from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson report that computer modeling methods developed to predict climate change on Earth have successfully predicted the age and location of glaciers and other climatic conditions on Mars. Their predictions have been confirmed through new satellite observations. Lead researcher William Hartmann said, “Some public figures imply that modeling of global climate change on Earth is ‘junk science,’ but if climate models can explain features observed on other planets, then the models must have at least some validity.”

Challenges to an Energy Transition

While some forecast Germany could save billions if it sticks to its plans of replacing nuclear with renewable energy, the plan may come at great cost to consumers. The country’s four main grid operators released estimates this week showing that households will see a nearly 50 percent increase in the tax needed to fund the transformation to renewables, requiring a typical family of four to pay about $324 per year on top of their bill—renewing debate over the transition sparked by the Fukushima disaster.

The Christian Science Monitor calls the energy transition claims made across the world clunky, offering that history suggests it can take up to 50 years to replace an existing energy infrastructure. The problem, according to the Monitor?  We don’t have that long.

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.


Keystone Pipeline Debate Reopens with Submission of New Application

May 10, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Department of State has received a new application from TransCanada—the company behind the controversial Keystone XL project—to ship crude oil via a proposed pipeline running from the Canadian border to existing infrastructure in Nebraska. TransCanada had its initial application rejected by the Obama administration in January. The reapplication to the U.S. State Department on Friday calls to reroute the pipeline around the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills Region of Nebraska—adding miles onto the project. Despite the new route, some in Nebraska still oppose the plan. The pipeline is causing other problems as lawmakers debate a multi-year surface transportation plan—the first one since 2005.

If approved, construction on the pipeline could happen in early 2013, with oil flowing as soon as 2014, according to The Canadian Press.

That same day, the Obama administration issued a proposed rule requiring companies drilling for natural gas on federal and tribal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. While the rules also set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal, disclosure of the chemicals used in the “fracking” process would not have to be reported until after work is complete. The regulations, which could go into effect by the end of the year, spurred debate among environmentalists, industry and lawmakers—with some saying the rules didn’t go far enough. Others highlighted the “toughest” provisions, which require tests of wells’ physical integrity and expand the scope of water protected from drilling—but pointed out the rules “only apply to a sliver of the nation’s natural gas supply.”

Gas prices have continued a steady decline the last five weeks, causing the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to revise forecasts for the summer—predicting motorists will spend $10.7 billion less than previously estimated.

Heartland Institute Pulls Controversial Billboards

The Heartland Institute made headlines again recently for suggesting—in billboard ads—that only terrorists believe in manmade global warming. The failed campaign attacking the existence of climate change prompted a firestorm of criticism and recalled another kerfuffle involving the Institute earlier this year. Reactions to the campaign caused the Institute to announce removal of the billboards after being up just 24 hours. Even after they were removed, some donors pulled funding for the Heartland Institute, but others weren’t so quick to cut their ties with the organization.

A new study focuses blame for warming on another species entirely. It links methane emissions from dinosaurs, the sauropod specifically, to climate change and a warmer Mesozoic era. Like the dinosaurs before them, modern-day methane emitters such as cows and sheep are being studied to determine how the methane they emit could be contributing to warming. Regardless, according to the study, emissions from dinosaurs were far larger than those of our modern-day plant-eating animals, and in fact may have equaled all modern methane emissions—both natural and manmade.

New data sheds li­ght on the speed of melting glaciers, and how their changes affect sea levels. Greenland’s ocean-bound glaciers accelerated by an average of 30 percent from 2000 to 2011—not quite as quickly had been estimated in previous worst-case scenarios, but still a cause for concern.

The Rise and Fall of Renewables

While a solar-powered boat was circumnavigating the world, on land the U.S. activated the first solar power project on federal land near Las Vegas. Meanwhile, residential solar leasing is taking off, Motley Fool reported. And in the next five years, the world’s solar power generating capacity is predicted to grow more than 200 percent, although public support for green energy initiatives has dropped recently.

Japan may be taking steps toward renewable energy after taking its last nuclear reactor off line last week. The move left the country without nuclear power for the first time since 1970. But MSNBC insisted renewables wouldn’t bring immediate relief, as only 10 percent of Japan’s power generation currently comes from renewables. Saudi Arabia is exploring whether it can generate a third of its electricity by way of solar power.

In the U.S., the renewable winner may not be necessarily who you think, according to the Washington Post. The EIA now has a map showing a large uptick in renewables between 2001 and 2011. This surge in renewables can largely be attributed to state renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, federal production tax credits and stimulus grants. The stimulus grants have expired; the tax credit for wind will expire at the end of 2012. The Guardian reports there is an effort underway by conservative think tanks in the U.S. to eliminate all government programs aimed at promoting the use of renewables.

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.


Record Temperatures May Bring More Than Just Early Spring Flowers

March 22, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Washington, D.C.’s famed cherry blossoms—now celebrating their centennial—decided to spring one on visitors, peaking well before the arrival of most Cherry Blossom Festival–goers. Spring’s forward leap is also causing coupling confusion among flowers and pollinators.

Above-average temperatures are responsible for these early blooms, marking this the fourth warmest winter on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA predicts the warm streak will continue for the next three months—particularly in the already steamy southern states of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Several newly released studies make the connection between this extreme weather and man-made heat-trapping pollution, says blogger Theo Spencer. Updated records of global temperatures, meanwhile, indicate the world has warmed by around 0.75 Celsius since 1900.

These warming temperatures may also be putting some five million people in the United States at risk for increased coastal flooding, according to a new Climate Central study. South Florida, southern Louisiana, and the Carolinas top the list of states with the most land to lose if sea level rises one meter. By the end of the century rising seas could cost near $2 trillion if temperatures keep rising. Nearly $1.4 trillion in costs could be avoided, Reuters reports, if temperature increases were limited to near 2 degrees Celsius.

And with the spring thaw comes reports of the ongoing melting of Arctic sea ice, opening new shipping lanes in the harsh region. One agency is looking for ways to use underwater sensors to handle the increased activity without harming the environment.

Cheap Natural Gas, Costly Crude

Mild temperatures are also driving natural gas futures lower, with prices hovering around their ten-year low. The dip in natural gas prices is bad news for investors, but good for farmers who will get an extra boost in the form of low fertilizer prices, says Forbes.

While the shale boom and warmer Eastern climes are causing natural gas prices to plummet, the upward march at the gasoline pump continues unabated. According to AAA, gasoline is over $4 a gallon in seven states—Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Washington—as well as the District of Columbia. A statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly gas prices and domestic oil production by the Associated Press revealed there is no link between U.S. oil production and gas prices at the pump. Meanwhile a new survey finds a number of academic economists say market forces, not government policy, account for changes in gasoline prices.

The high prices, up more than 17 percent this year, are taking a toll on consumer confidence, nudging sales of electric motorcycles, raising the price of hybrids and causing an uneasiness in the markets.

President’s Energy Tour

A new poll suggests persistently high gasoline prices are eroding President Obama’s public approval numbers. The White House points to new Energy Information Administration data to say the president is doing more than enough to produce energy on federal lands, while others—citing the same data—claim he is doing too little.

To underscore his efforts, the president set out on a four state, two-day tour that wraps up today in Cushing, Okla. Politico reports the President will sign a directive expediting permits for the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline in Cushing—where the southern pipeline is slated to begin. Midwest oil hits a bottleneck in Cushing on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, according to CNN.

Signing the permit is a move sure to be unpopular with environmental groups and Obama faces a taste of green anger today in Columbus, Ohio, where he’s concluding his tour with an address at Ohio State University. Students, including some former Obama campaign workers, are planning a rally to push the president away from fossil fuels, according to 350.org. However, a new a Gallup poll released today shows 57 percent of Americans support the Keystone pipeline

In Cushing, Obama will also be talking about his commitment to domestic energy production—dubbed the “all of the above” energy strategy. Author Bill McKibben blasts this strategy: “Burning all the oil you can and then putting up a solar panel is like drinking six martinis at lunch and then downing a VitaminWater.” Others oppose it for different reasons: the National Review’s Jim Geraghty says it “rejects many options,” while Allen Schaeffer of the Diesel Technology Forum worries about policies “that clearly prioritize favored energy sources over other energy sources.”

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.

 


Beleaguered EPA Must Take Charge of Greenhouse Gases, Supreme Court Rules

June 23, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court shot down a global warming lawsuit several states and environmental groups had brought against five of America’s biggest utilities, responsible for about one-tenth of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The case was aimed at getting the court to rule greenhouse gas emissions a public nuisance and order the defendants to reduce them. But the court said Congress had already authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to handle greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, concluding: “We see no room for a parallel track.”

The new decision bolstered the court’s 2007 decision, in which it ruled the EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as well as traditional pollutants, like smog and particulate matter.

After the new decision, the door is still open for environmental nuisance suits in general, and potentially even for state-level nuisance suits on greenhouse gases, noted Yale law professor Douglas Kysar. And, he pointed out, if Congress strips the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases—as some recent bills attempted to do—then the nuisance suits on a federal level could return.

In the Spotlight

The new ruling “puts the spotlight squarely on EPA,” said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Recently, the agency has issued new rules on emissions from light-duty vehicles and is moving forward on similar rules for larger vehicles. It is also developing its regulations on power plant emissions, which were scheduled to be published in draft form in late July, but have now been pushed back two months in response to complaints from industry and state governments.

Meanwhile, a study by nonprofit group Media Matters found opponents of the EPA dominate TV discussion of the topic, appearing more than four times as often as those in favor of greenhouse regulation by the agency.

Some commentators said the ruling will stoke attempts to hamper the EPA. The Obama administration signaled it may veto any laws that attempt to block the EPA. When asked about attempts to hamstring the EPA, Obama’s chief of staff Bill Daley said, “we’re not going to allow any legislation that impedes the need to improve our health and safety.”

Obama Gets Gored

In a long article in Rolling Stone, former Vice President Al Gore made pointed criticisms of the Obama administration’s work on climate change. “His election was accompanied by intense hope that many things in need of change would change,” Gore wrote. “Some things have, but others have not. Climate policy, unfortunately, is in the second category.”

Obama’s backers pointed out that many new programs are now coming into place. One is a “game-changing” $2.6-billion solar panel project announced this week that would install nearly as many panels as were installed in the whole country in 2010. The U.S. Department of Energy is backing more than $1 billion in loans for the project, and earlier this month announced it would also back $1.9 billion in loans for two solar power projects in California.

Meanwhile, private financing of renewable energy projects has picked up, with Google emerging as one of the biggest spenders. This year, the company has already invested 10 times as much in renewables and clean tech as it did in 2010, reaching a total of $780 million—including, this month alone, $102 million for a wind energy center and $280 million for a residential solar panel partnership.

Big Oil on the Big Screen

U.S. gasoline prices have dropped somewhat in the past couple of weeks, but the high prices are still a brake on the economy, said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and several members of Congress are targeting oil speculators to try to make prices lower and more stable.

Big Oil is also in the sights of the cartoon “Cars 2.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Director John Lasseter said, “I kept going to big oil” as the villain in the soon-to-be-released film.

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.


Obama’s Popularity and the Next Election may be Tied to Gas Prices

April 28, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Whenever prices at the gas pump soar, President Obama’s popularity takes a hit, he suggested at a private fundraising event—and which is backed up by a recent poll. House Speaker John Boehner argued high gas prices could even cost Obama the 2012 election.

Obama argued the long term solution is clean energy, but to try to help in the shorter term, though, the administration launched two new efforts. The Justice Department will conduct a probe into speculation in oil trading, to see if it is inflating oil prices, as Obama has claimed before. Also, a new federal program will aid homeowners in getting loans to pay for improvements that boost energy efficiency. “We’re making it easier for American homeowners to save money by saving energy,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

A “Crazy and Unsustainable” Policy

With the 2012 Presidential elections approaching, some Republican hopefuls have lit into Obama’s approach to energy. To help with high oil prices, last week Donald Trump supports Libyan intervention if the U.S. can take their oil. This week, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty called for opening drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as well as more offshore wells, while saying  Obama “sat on his hands” regarding drilling in America.

Despite calls to boost domestic fossil fuel production, “it is simply crazy and unsustainable to continue to subsidize the oil-and-gas companies when we need to reduce our deficit and invest elsewhere,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Several major oil-and-gas companies should report significant profit, according to the Associated Press.

Since the 2009 G20 meeting, Obama has been pushing for an end to fossil fuel subsidies around the world. Obama may be gaining traction on this issue, with Speaker Boehner saying oil companies “ought to be paying their fair share” of taxes.

Who Resurrected the Electric Car?

Electric cars have been resurrected, with the maker of the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” to film a follow-up, “Revenge of the Electric Car.”

While electric cars are still a minuscule slice of the auto market, the market continues to shift in larger ways, according to a new report. As the economy has recovered somewhat from the Great Recession, sales of most kinds of cars have risen. But sales of small cars, hybrids, and diesels (which are often fuel efficient) are growing much faster than car sales as a whole. Compared to the first quarter last year, this year sales jumped roughly 25 to 45 percent for various classes of more efficient cars, but rose only 7 percent for SUVs.

Western Water Woes to Deepen

Water supplies in the Western U.S. will only get tighter as climate change worsens, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which billed it as “the first consistent and coordinated assessment of risks to future water supplies across eight major … river basins,” including the Colorado, Rio Grande and San Joaquin. Flows in these three basins, the government report said, are likely to decline by 8 to 14 percent by 2050—a time frame in which future warming is largely already set by past emissions. In California, however, there’s large uncertainty about the impacts, making planning all the more difficult.

When it comes to moisture-loving fungi, climate change is already changing landscapes. Truffle-hunting dogs have turned up troves of the valuable fungi in Germany, where they were never known to exist before, a new study reports. Although the study was on expensive edible fungi, the findings could have much wider implications. “Without fungi, plants don’t work,” the study leader, a fungal ecologist, told Wired Science. “We know climates are changing and that fungal habitats are shifting. What we’re not certain about are the effects.”

Nuclear Power Protests Mark Chernobyl Anniversary

With progress slow on controlling Japan’s damaged nuclear power plants, farmers from the area protested against nuclear power, and thousands protested in France and Germany against nukes in their countries.

Meanwhile, NRG Energy announced it is pulling the plug on a nuclear power plant it was building in Texas.

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.