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

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

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next Thursday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return November 30.

Although the world’s greenhouse gas emissions leveled out between 2014 and 2016, new studies presented this week at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, suggest that emissions will rise 2 percent in 2017.

“The temporary hiatus appears to have ended in 2017,” wrote Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who along with colleagues at the Global Carbon Project tracked 2017 emissions to date and projected them forward in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Economic projections suggest further emissions growth in 2018 is likely,” wrote the authors.

The primary driver of the rising emissions increase is a 3.5 percent increase in China’s emissions due to decreased use of hydropower and an uptick in coal use. India is expected to see a 2 percent rise in emissions. Meanwhile, the United States, the world’s second largest emitter behind China, is projected to experience a 0.4 percent decline in emissions.

The studies add urgency to the efforts of those in Bonn to negotiate the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the global treaty that aims to limit global warming. Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the Global Carbon Budget 2017 study and director of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, said the timeframe for meeting Paris Agreement targets is shortening: “Our expectations had always been that emissions would grow, but perhaps not as steeply as this.

“With global CO2 emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5C,” Le Quéré added.

COP 23: Coal, Finances, and Subnational Support

As signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) finish the second week of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, their focus remains on hammering out the details of the Paris Agreement, the global treaty aiming 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.

How exactly the needed actions will be financed is yet to be seen.

“We need all financial players—public, private, domestic, international—and including markets and regulators, to work together effectively to mobilize at least $1.5 trillion in climate finance that is needed every year,” said Eric Usher, head of Finance Initiative at the U.N. Environment Programme.

Now that the United States is the only country not supporting the Paris Agreement—President Donald Trump announced in June that it would withdraw from the agreement—the administration’s only appearance at the conference focused on fossil fuels.

George D. Banks, special adviser to President Trump on international energy issues, led a panel with top American energy executives, offering that “without question, fossil fuels will continue to be used, and we would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure when fossil fuels are used that they be as clean and efficient as possible. This panel is controversial only if we choose to bury our heads in the sand.”

Despite the Trump administration’s stance on the agreement, U.S. states and cities are looking to take action on climate change. This week, 20 states and 50 cities signed a pledge to abide by the emissions reduction targets of the Paris agreement.

“It is important for the world to know, the American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us,” former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said in Bonn.

The group is vowing to take measures, such as reducing coal-fired power and investing in renewable energy and efficiency, which would substantially reduce its carbon output.

Study: A Warming Planet Makes Harvey-like Storms More Likely

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, some researchers pointed to the increased likelihood of extreme rain events as the planet warms, but a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes further. It supports the idea that the specific risk of such events is already on the upswing because of humans’ contributions to climate change. According to the study author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, since the end of the 20th century, global warming has helped increase the annual likelihood of Harvey-like rainfall in Texas by 6 percent. By century end, that probability could rise to 18 percent.

To better understand how climate change is skewing those odds, Emanuel generated 3,700 computerized storms for each of the three climate models used in the study. He situated Texas storms in the climates of the years from 1980 to 2016. In these climates, he found that an event producing 20 inches of rain was extremely rare. When he performed a similar analysis in the projected climates of the years 2080 to 2100, Harvey’s 33 inches of rain in Houston became a once-in-a-100-year event, rather than a once-in-a-2,000-year event, and for Texas as a whole, the odds increased from once in 100 years to once every 5.5 years.

“The changes in probabilities are because of global warming,” Emanuel said.

In the study, global warming helped slow hurricanes by pushing land and ocean temperatures closer together, leading to the kind of longevity witnessed with Harvey, but the other and greater effect of that warming is the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture.

“If [general circulation] slows down, then places near the coast will get more rain,” Emanuel said. “But the main reason our technique shows increasing rainfall is that there’s more water in the air.”

The significance of this study, Emmanuel noted, is to alert city planners to the changing probabilities of large-scale hurricanes in Texas.

“It is important for those people who will rebuild Houston and rethink its infrastructure to understand the magnitude of the risk and how it will change over time,” he said.

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

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

A Trump administration review of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants, is expected to be finalized this fall, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a court filing last week.

The EPA was expected do away with the signature climate regulation, which the Supreme Court stayed in early 2016 and which would require the U.S. electricity sector to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by up to 32 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2030. But, according to Politico, the Trump administration has suggested that it might consider a replacement at the urging of power companies fearful that a repeal could trigger courtroom challenges that would lead to years of regulatory uncertainty.

If, for reasons of regulatory certainty and legal prudence, the Trump administration does conclude that some limits on the plants’ carbon emissions are a good idea, The Hill reports that the regulation is likely to focus solely on carbon reductions that plants can achieve, mainly by improving the efficiency of coal-fired generators. By contrast, the existing rule ordered reductions based not just on efficiency gains but also on use of relatively low-carbon power sources like natural gas as well as renewable fuels. Hence carbon reductions achievable through a Trump rule would be much lower than former president Barack Obama’s rule, and emissions might actually rise if efficiency gains discouraged the closure of coal plants by making them cheaper to operate.

If the Trump administration does move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, it will have to change the cost-benefit calculus to justify the move, reported ClimateWire (subscription). According to the Obama-era EPA, every $1 spent on compliance might buy $6 in benefits, in part by averting premature deaths and health problems. The Trump administration’s cost-benefit analysis, promised last March as part of its announced review of the rule, could telegraph how it might recalculate the benefits of curbing climate change as it moves to eliminate other Obama-era regulations.

Announcement of the Clean Power Plan review’s finalization came as officials from the White House’s policy councils and representatives from federal agencies, including the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, met to begin plotting a climate and energy strategy, one aimed at new policies that break from the Trump administration’s extensive efforts to repeal climate regulations and to push back on the public perception that the administration doesn’t support climate change science, a perception reinforced by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s launching of a critique of the validity of that science.

“This was a forward-looking meeting on strategy and how to prioritize the administration’s climate goals and objectives moving forward,” said an administration spokesman said. “This particular meeting was more big picture strategy.” The purpose was to bring together “a whole group of stakeholders … that are involved in climate issues and looking ahead to what policy initiatives we may put in place.”

Nevertheless, on Monday the EPA announced that it is preparing to submit a final report to the White House on rules that are ripe for repeal because they may burden fossil fuel production and use—a report required of all federal agencies by Trump’s March executive order on regulations, E.O. 13783, and by subsequent Office of Management and Budget guidance.

Ontario Joins California and Quebec in Carbon Market

Ontario joins California and Quebec in their cap-and-trade program, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Announced on Friday, the agreement, which takes effect Jan. 1, creates the world’s second largest carbon market behind the European Union’s market.

“Climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions,” said Kathleen Wynne, premier of Ontario. “Now more than ever, we need to work together with our partners at home and around the world to show how our collaboration can lead to results in this international fight. Today’s carbon market linking agreement will add to the success we have already seen in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario, Québec and California. We are stronger together, and by linking our three carbon markets we will achieve even greater reductions at the lowest cost.”

The system puts a “cap” on the amount of pollution companies in certain industries can emit. If they exceed those limits, they must buy allowance permits at auction or from other companies that come in under their pollution limits. Linking the carbon markets means participating companies will be able to use carbon allowances and offsets issued by any of the three governments at their quarterly auctions. The addition of Ontario significantly expands the allowance market, according to California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young.

“Ontario’s market is roughly 40 percent to 50 percent the size of California’s carbon market,” he said. “Quebec’s is 15 percent of California’s.”

Transportation Emissions under Microscope

The Federal Highway Administration announced that the 2016 Transportation Clean Air Rule, which requires state and local planners to track and curb pollution from trucks and cars on federal highways in their jurisdictions, goes into effect today.  Legal pressure following a Trump administration announcement, in May, to “indefinitely delay” the rule earned its reinstatement.

With the rule back in place, the Federal Highway Administration can resume working with state and local planners to find transportation options that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the first compliance deadline of October 2018.

Originally finalized days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the rule requires state and metro transport agencies and planning organizations to track carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles traveling on the national highway system. The agencies also must set two-year emissions-reduction targets, four-year targets, or both, and they must periodically report on their progress.

A Federal Register notice indicates that the Trump administration will still propose a rule repeal by the end of the year—possibly finalizing it in spring 2018.

Some states, including California and Massachusetts, already require highway planners to consider the climate impacts of roads. For California in particular, history, legal precedent and regulatory defiance has given the state the unique authority to write its own air pollution rules and set its own auto emissions standards. For now, the federal waiver allowing California to set these standards will not be revoked, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. It appears California may re-open discussions on its greenhouse gas limits for cars and trucks for 2025 if automakers and the Trump administration embrace tougher targets that the state is seeking for later years.

“The price of getting us to the table is talking about post-2025,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board. “California remains convinced that there was no need to initiate this new review of the review and that the technical work was fully adequate to justify going ahead with the existing program, but we’re willing to talk about specific areas if there were legitimate concerns the companies raised — in the context of a bigger discussion about where we’re going post-2025.”

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

Hurricane Irma is shaping up to be a potentially catastrophic storm that remains on course to hit Florida by Sunday. Coming immediately after Hurricane Harvey, Irma is increasing attention to the relationship of severe weather events to climate change. Throughout the past few decades, hurricanes in particular have drawn attention to the need to fight climate change, with scientists recognizing that although climate change is not the cause of hurricanes, “a warmer planet will produce bigger and more destructive hurricanes.” What is unclear, however, is when American politicians will conclude that the severity and frequency of big storms requires more action to reduce global warming pollution.

Whatever the political reaction after Harvey and Irma, the storms are making clear their implications for energy infrastructure. The hazard with hurricanes are the associated winds, storm surge and, most of all, rain. Already, energy companies in the state are bracing for the hazards that Hurricane Irma, which registered at a category 5 on Wednesday, could bring.

When Houston providers were hit by Hurricane Harvey last month, they experienced limited power outages thanks to investments—smart meters and a fault location, isolation and service restoration system—made after Hurricane Ike in 2008. Still, oil refineries, chemical plants and shale drilling sites have reported Harvey-triggered flaring, leaks and chemical discharges—releasing more than 1 million pounds of air pollutants in the week after the storm.

Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, noted that the Houston area has a “deep concentration of fuel production in this one area that’s so intensely vulnerable.”

In an op-ed in The Conversation experts Andrew Dessler, Daniel Cohan and Katharine Hayhoe write that “today, wind and solar power prices are now competitive with fossil fuels across Texas. Across the country, these industries already employ far more people than coal mining. Electric cars may soon be as affordable as gasoline ones and be charged in ways that help balance the fluctuations in wind and solar power.” 

And Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich) and Valerie Brader write in The Hill that “as Hurricane Harvey has taught us, making sure our energy resources are safe, secure and plentiful should not be a partisan issue. It’s an issue we can’t afford to wait on.”

“It makes you realize, these megastorms, if you haven’t been hit by one, your worst-case scenario is nowhere near a true worst-case scenario,” said Daniel J. Kelly, the executive director of the New Jersey Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, as he recalled his state’s struggle to respond to Hurricane Sandy.

Trump Announces Picks for NASA, Other Climate-Related Posts

On Tuesday, the Trump administration sent 46 nominations to the Senate for confirmation, among them Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to head up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Bridenstine doesn’t have a background in science—he studied economics, business and psychology at Rice University. Before he became a Republican congressman in 2012 he worked as executive director of the Tulsa Air & Space Museum & Planetarium and served as a Navy combat pilot.

Last year, he sponsored a bill called the American Space Renaissance Act, which proposed broad, ambitious goals for the nation’s space program, including directing NASA to devise a 20-year plan. Although he wants Americans to return to the moon and is an advocate for commercial space flight, NPR reported that Bridenstein expressed skepticism that humans are causing climate change.

Science magazine reported that Democrats in the Senate may question Bridenstine about comments he made in 2013, during his first term in the House, while arguing for additional support for weather research. “Mr. Speaker, global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago,” he said. “Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles.”

Although at the time Bridenstine claimed that any changes in global temperature were linked to natural cycles and not increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from industrial activity, he has since acknowledged that those emissions do play a role in climate change.

But in a 2016 interview with Aerospace America, he suggested that any efforts to lessen the nation’s carbon footprint would be economically detrimental.

“The United States does not have a big enough carbon footprint to make a difference when you’ve got all these other polluters out there,” he said. “So why do we fundamentally want to damage our economy even more when nobody else is willing to do the same thing?”

Six other nominees would, if confirmed, also have a say about climate and energy policy.

  • Timothy Gallaudet, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, is the nominee for Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. He has experience in assessing the national security impacts of climate change.
  • Matthew Z. Leopold, former General Counsel of the Florida Department of Environment Protection and a former attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, is the nominee for Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, General Counsel.
  • William Northey, currently serving his third term as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, is the nominee for Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm Production and Conservation.
  • David Ross, currently serving as the director of the Environmental Protection Unit for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, is the nominee for an Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water.
  • Bruce J. Walker, founder of Modern Energy Insights, Inc., is the nominee for an Assistant Secretary of Energy, Electricity, Delivery and Energy Reliability.
  • Steven E. Winberg, a veteran of Consol Energy and the Batelle Memorial Institute, is the nominee for an Assistant Secretary of Energy, Fossil Energy.

Nuclear Construction Continuing in Georgia as Southeast Utilities Roll Back Plans

Utilities in Georgia are pressing ahead with plans to build two huge nuclear reactors in the next five years—the only nuclear units still under construction nationwide after South Carolina utilities SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper opted to end construction of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station’s two reactors. The proposal calls for completion of the Georgia reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle generating station near Augusta, which is already home to two existing nuclear units built in the 1980s.

“Completing the Vogtle 3 and 4 expansion will enable us to continue delivering clean, safe, affordable and reliable energy to millions of Georgians, both today and in the future,” said Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power. “The two new units at Plant Vogtle will be in service for 60 to 80 years and will add another low-cost, carbon-free energy source to our already diverse fuel mix.”

Meanwhile, Duke Energy Florida, Duke Energy Carolinas, and Dominion Virginia Power separately announced plans to rollback efforts to develop additional new reactors— moves that made the future of the United States nuclear industry even more unclear.  Right now, 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 Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions study explores how the potential loss of existing nuclear plants in the Southeast interacts with the regions other electricity sector challenges—among them, increasing natural gas dependence, demand uncertainty, and emerging technology—and it proposes steps states can take to address these challenges.

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.

Harvey Shines Light on Issue of Climate Change

On August 31, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas last week, dumping more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city. After drifting back out over the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm, Harvey made a second landfall near the Texas and Louisiana border Wednesday. By the time this extreme storm dissipates, damage is expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

As news coverage documents large swaths of destruction from flooding and high winds, many are asking whether climate change makes storms like Harvey more likely and more severe.

“Climate is not central, but by the same token it is grossly irresponsible to leave climate out of the story, for the simple reason that climate change is, as the U.S. military puts it, a threat multiplier. The storms, the challenges of emergency response, the consequences of poor adaptation—they all predate climate change. But climate change will steadily make them worse,” writes David Roberts in Vox.

Roberts’ words were echoed by said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University.

“The hurricane is a naturally occurring hazard that is exacerbated by climate change, but the actual risk to Houston is a combination of the hazard—rainfall, storm surge and wind, the vulnerability, and the exposure,” said Hayhoe of Houston’s particularly high vulnerability. “It’s a rapidly growing city with vast areas of impervious surfaces. Its infrastructure is crumbling. And it’s difficult for people to get out of harm’s way.”

The Washington Post also points a finger at a warming climate’s effect on storm surge, rainfall, and storm intensity.

Others, like Meteorologist Eric Holthaus, put it more bluntly. He writes in Politico that “Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.”

What’s clear is that like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina before it, Harvey has reopened the debate over the connection between hurricanes and climate change, and promises to increase climate’s resonance in the political debate.

Harvey is also leaving a mark on the infrastructure of the country’s largest oil and gas firms. Forbes offered a reminder that in 2008, refinery utilization dropped from 78 percent before Hurricane Ike and to 67 percent the week of the hurricane. Harvey has already knocked out 11 percent of U.S. refining capacity and a quarter of oil production from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as well as closed ports along the Texas coast. The shutdowns are resulting in a spike in gas prices across the United States.

The environmental fallout—escaping gasoline and releases of hazardous gases from refineries—could worsen.

RGGI States Look to Further Reduce Utility Emissions

Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic governors last week agreed to move forward with an extension of and additional emissions cuts through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a state-driven cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

According to their proposal, the RGGI states―Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont―would cap emissions at some 75 million tons in 2021 and decrease those emissions by 2.25 million tons every year until 2030, resulting in a total decline of 30 percent and leading to an overall reduction of 65 percent of emissions since RGGI began eight years ago. A separate provision would allow for deeper cuts, if not prohibitively costly to states.

The group is also proposing changes to the program’s rules, such as adjusting the emissions cap to remove some excess allowances, allowing states to delay the sale of some emissions allowances if they are too cheap and taking steps to mitigate excess allowances. Starting in 2021, an emissions containment reserve, in which New Hampshire and Maine will not participate, would hold back 10 percent of allowances if the price on carbon credits falls below $6 per ton. After 2021, the emissions containment reserve trigger price would increase by 7 percent annually.

After seeking public comments on the proposal at a hearing in Baltimore on Sept. 25, the RGGI group will conduct additional economic analysis and publish a revised proposal. Each of the nine states must then follow its own statutes to implement the new plan.

“With today’s announcement, the RGGI states are demonstrating our commitment to a strengthened RGGI program that will utilize innovative new mechanisms to secure significant carbon reductions at a reasonable price on into the next decade, working in concert with our competitive energy markets and reliability goals,” said RGGI Chairwoman Katie Dykes.

The RGGI auctions permits for utilities to buy electricity produced at power plants that produce greenhouse gases. RGGI officials say those auctions have raised more than $2.7 billion to invest in cleaner energy since 2009.

Program advocates point to several studies suggesting the program’s success, reported the Boston Globe. One by the Acadia Center in 2016 found that RGGI states reduced emissions by 16 percent more than other states, while growing the region’s economy 3.6 percent more than the rest of the country. At the same time, energy prices in RGGI states fell by an average of 3.4 percent, while electricity rates in other states rose by 7.2 percent.

Inside Climate News reported that although other regions have seen lower carbon emissions courtesy of low-cost natural gas, a study by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Duke University Energy Initiative found the cap-and-trade market was responsible for about half of the region’s post-2009 emissions reductions, which are far greater than those achieved in the rest of the United States.

Tillerson Signals Intent to Remove Climate Envoy Post

In a letter to Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shared his intent to reorganize, shift, or eliminate almost half of the agency’s nearly 70 special envoy positions. Among the positions in question: a high-profile representative on the issue of climate change.

“I believe that the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose,” Tillerson wrote.

Tillerson goes on to say that the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change—in charge of engaging partners and allies around the world on climate change issues—will be removed and that the functions and staff will be moved to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs.

“This will involve realigning 7 positions and $761,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES),” the letter 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

On Monday, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia order directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out an Obama-era rule that sets methane pollution limits for the oil and gas industry.

Nine of the 11 court judges issued the order upholding a July ruling that found that the Trump administration overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act when it tried to delay the methane rule.

Implemented in 2016, the rule targets new and modified sources of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas with long-term global warming potential thought to be many times that of carbon dioxide. The rule was expected to reduce 510,000 short tons of methane in 2025, the equivalent of reducing 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

After President Donald Trump asked the EPA to review the rule in a March executive order, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in an April letter, stayed the deadline for oil and gas companies to follow the new rule by 90 days. Pruitt later sought to pause the methane rule two years to “look broadly” at regulations and review their impact.

Studies Find Earth Tilting Hard toward Warming Tipping Point

Hope that limiting climate change to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures—the oft-cited threshold of “dangerous” warming—has been further diminished by recent studies published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

One study co-authored by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that human forces have heated the climate for longer than thought—since at least 1750—pushing the so-called “preindustrial” baseline for the planet’s warming backward and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that we can emit to avoid 2 or more degrees Celsius of warming.

The Mauritsen and Pincus study analyzed past emissions of greenhouse gases and the burning of fossil fuels to show that even if that burning suddenly ceased, Earth would continue to heat up about two more degrees Celsius by 2100.

This view was similar to that of another study led by the University of Washington’s Adrian Raferty. That study calculates the statistical likelihood of various amounts of warming by the year 2100 given three trends that matter most for carbon emissions: global population, countries’ GDP (on a per capita basis), and carbon intensity (the volume of emissions for a given level of economic activity). The research puts median warming at 3.2 degrees Celsius and concludes that there’s a 5 percent chance that the world can hold warming below 2 degrees Celsius this century. The authors say there’s a 90 percent chance that temperatures will increase by 2.0 to 4.9 degrees Celsius.

Raferty’s team built a statistical model covering a range of emissions scenarios, finding that carbon intensity will be the most important factor in future warming despite the expectation that technological advances will cut that intensity by 90 percent this century.

“The big problem with scenarios is that you don’t know how likely they are, and whether they span the full range of possibilities or are just a few examples,” said Raferty. “Scientifically, this type of storytelling approach was not fully satisfying. Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen. We’re closer to the margin than we think.”

Construction Ends on Twin Nuclear Reactors

South Carolina utilities SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper on Monday opted to end construction of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station’s two reactors. The first reactor at V.C. Summer had been expected to go online in August 2019, with the second following a year later.

“The best-case scenario shows this project would be several years late and 75 percent more than originally planned,” Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter said in a statement announcing the decision. “We simply cannot ask our customers to pay for a project that has become uneconomical. And even though suspending construction is the best option for them, we are disappointed that our contractor has failed to meet its obligations and put Santee Cooper and our customers in this situation.”

The move makes the future of the United States nuclear industry even more unclear. With just one nuclear plant under construction, 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.

In the southeast, where the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station reactors were located, it is unlikely that existing units can simultaneously be replaced with new plants given the long lead times and limited applications for new nuclear plants at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions study explores how the potential loss of existing nuclear plants in the Southeast interacts with the regions other electricity sector challenges—among them, increasing natural gas dependence, demand uncertainty, and emerging technology—and it proposes steps states can take to address these challenges.

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.

California Extends Its Cap-and-Trade Program

On July 20, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a 28–12 vote on Monday night, California’s Senate approved AB 398 to extend the state’s landmark cap-and-trade program to 2030. Hours later, the bill passed in the state’s Assembly, 55–21. Lawmakers also approved a companion measure, AB 617, aimed at reducing pollution that causes local public health problems. In addition, to win GOP support in the Assembly for the cap-and-trade program, the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment giving Republicans increased input in how the state spends revenues from the sale of emissions allowances—permits to pollute—by requiring, in 2024, a two-thirds vote to approve how they are used.

Gov. Jerry Brown and others have argued that extension of the cap-and-trade program is critical to meet the most aggressive climate goal of any state in the nation—a 40 percent cut in 1990s-level greenhouse gas emissions by 2030—and to send a countering signal to President Donald Trump’s rejection of policies and partnerships aimed at limiting warming (subscription). The program sets a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allows emitters to buy and sell emissions permits, or allowances. The number of allowances available each year equals the annual limit, and both decrease over time, lowering emissions.

When unveiled for debate last week, the legislation drew the ire of many Republicans and progressive environmentalists, although other influential environmental groups said it represented a reasonable balance and the best chance for advancing the program (subscription). In the end, eight Republicans in the Assembly and one in the Senate voted to extend the program, but some environmental groups remain unhappy, saying the legislation allows polluters too many allowances to emit greenhouse gases and that local air quality is not addressed by the use of offsets, a practice whereby polluters can meet a certain amount of their emissions targets by investing in greenhouse-gas-reducing projects, including those outside California, rather than investing in their own emissions reductions.

The bipartisan, supermajority votes in both the state Assembly and Senate for extension of the program were touted by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León as a win for the environment and the economy.

“Californians understand that we can’t truly have a healthy economy that’s built to last without taking meaningful steps to protect public health and preserve a livable environment,” said de León.

Climate Science: The Debate

Last week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt proposed a televised debate of climate science, whereby a red team would attack mainstream findings and a blue team would play defense. Critics of the idea, which has raised alarm bells among scientists, have argued that it will give viewers the impression that scientists are evenly divided over the fundamentals of climate change, when in fact the vast majority of scientists agree on those fundamentals, and that a debate format would test debating techniques and communication skills, not the evidence.

ClimateWire reported that climate scientists view the debate as a trap because it gives the minority of researchers who question mainstream climate science a stage they’ve not been able to command in peer-reviewed journals (subscription). At the same time, refusal to participate could leave the impression that mainstream climate scientists are hiding something—and would leave skeptics’ assertions unopposed.

Proposal of this debate comes amid news of a U.S. Geological Survey e-mail alert to international scientists warning that the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget cuts, if approved, would undermine important data-gathering programs and cooperative studies in a number of areas, including climate change.

NOAA Says 2016 Greenhouse Gas Influence Reached 30-Year High

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, the influence of greenhouse gases on atmospheric warming was higher last year than it has been in nearly 30 years (subscription). The greenhouse gas index was intended to provide a straightforward way to report the yearly change in the warming influence of greenhouse gases, reported the New York Times, which noted the steady increase in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990.

“The role of greenhouse gases on influencing global temperatures is well understood by scientists, but it’s a complicated topic that can be difficult to communicate,” the NOAA release states.

As explained by Climate Central, the index takes measurements of 20 key greenhouse gases from some 80 ships and observatories around the world and boils them down into a numerical index that defines the rise from 1700 to 1990 as 100 percent or 1. This year’s number, 1.4, shows that the direct influence of the gases on the climate has risen 140 percent since 1750; 40 percent of that increase has been realized since 1990. The increase is due mostly to human activities and has resulted in warming of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures.

This week NOAA announced that the first half of 2017 was the planet’s second-warmest, behind 2016, since the start of planetary temperature recordkeeping in 1880. A major El Niño, such as that experienced in 2016, tends to increase global temperatures. But as Earth’s temperature has risen because of greenhouse gases, an El Niño isn’t necessary to attain very high temperatures. Years with La Niñas, which tend to cool global temperatures, are today hotter than El Niño years several decades ago.

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

Democrats and Republicans are sharply divided on climate change in Congress but perhaps not so much at the municipal level. In a show of bipartisan support for the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan at the conclusion of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach on Monday, leaders from more than 250 cities voted on symbolic resolutions calling for the Trump Administration to rejoin the global climate accord and embracing the goal of running their jurisdictions entirely on renewable energy by 2035. Another resolution called for President Trump and Congress to “develop a comprehensive risk management program to address future flood risks from sea level rise.”

“I think most mayors in America don’t think we have to wait for a president” whose beliefs on climate change are not supported by science, said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “There’s near unanimity in this conference that climate change is real and that humans contribute to it,” he said, adding “If the federal government refuses to act or is just paralyzed, the cities themselves, through their mayors, are going to create a new national policy by the accumulation of our individual efforts.”

The mayors showcased climate change with panels on climate resiliency and a neighborhood tour by Miami Mayor Philip Levine highlighting municipal efforts to cope with sea-level rise. Miami Beach is one of the U.S. cities most vulnerable to climate change.

Preliminary results of a survey jointly conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions were released at the conference on Saturday. According to USCM, the survey of 66 municipalities, ranging from 21,000 to 8.5 million residents across 30 states, found “overwhelming interest by cities in collaborating with the private sector to accelerate climate efforts.”

On Tuesday at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt suggested that the Clean Air Act may not have given his agency the tools for those efforts, telling committee members that the EPA’s endangerment finding, which established that greenhouse gas emissions were harmful to human health, did not settle the question of how the agency should regulate those emissions.

Massachusetts v. EPA simply said to the EPA that it had to make a decision on whether it had to regulate, whether it posed a risk to health, and there was an endangerment finding that followed that in 2009. It did not address whether the tools were in the toolbox,” Pruitt said. He added, “I think what’s important is that we are responding to the CO2 issue through the regulation of mobile sources, we’re also evaluating the steps or the tools we have in the toolbox with respect to stationary sources, and that’s our focus,” he said.

Challenging Pruitt’s assertion that the Clean Air Act gave the EPA no clear authority to regulate carbon emissions, John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, pointed to two Supreme Court cases—American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA—affirming that authority, specifically with regard to emissions from stationary sources.

Global Sea-Level Rise Accelerates

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, adds to recent literature confirming an acceleration in sea-level rise during the past few decades. That literature, which includes a study published in early June that found a tripling of the rate of sea-level increase between 1990 and 2012, is significant in part because of earlier uncertainty about whether global waters were indeed rising—uncertainty cited by climate change deniers. Specifically, the new study reveals the close match between what scientists know about contributors to sea-level rise and measured rates from satellites, and it nails down the sea-level rise acceleration.

The study led by Xianyao Chen of the Ocean University of China and Qingdao National Laboratory of Marine Science and Technology showed that the main contributor to recent sea-level rise is the thawing of Greenland’s ice sheet. The study found that the annual rate of sea-level rise had reached 0.13 inches in 2014. But ocean levels rose 50 percent faster in 2014 than in 1993, with meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet making up 25 percent of total sea level increase compared with 5 percent 20 years earlier. That finding suggests that the rate will continue to accelerate, and scientists say oceans are likely to rise about three feet by century’s end.

The study co-authors said the rate’s acceleration “highlights the importance and urgency of mitigating climate change and formulating coastal adaptation plans to mitigate the impacts of ongoing sea level rise.”

Climate Change-Related Fires Increase in the Arctic

Recent massive fire years in Alaska and Canada have been driven by extreme lightning storms that are likely to move north with climate warming, according to findings in Nature Climate Change by researchers from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of California, Irvine. The scientists found that as fires creep northward, near the transition from boreal forests to Arctic tundra, large amounts of carbon currently locked in permafrost could be released. In addition, trees could begin growing in the tundra, darkening surfaces previously covered with snow, which prevents the reflection of sunlight away from Earth and contributes to global warming.

Using satellite and ground-based data, the researchers discovered that lightning-caused fires have risen 2 to 5 percent a year for the last four decades. The reason? Warmer temperatures increase thunderstorms, which in turn increase lightning and fire risk. These changes are part of a complex climate feedback loop, said Sander Veraverbeke of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the study’s lead author.

“You have more fires; they creep farther north; they burn in these soils which have a lot of C02 and methane that can be exposed directly at the moment of the fire and then decades after,” Veraverbeke said. “That contributes again to global warming; you have again more fire.”

The study was prompted by immense fires in Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories in two of the last three years. Lightening was the cause of some 82 percent of the burned areas in the Northwest Territories in 2014 and 95 percent of the burned areas in Alaska in 2015—areas that don’t usually experience fires, according to Veraverbeke.

“These fires are claiming an area that they haven’t burned historically, which also means they can change the carbon balance and shift an ecosystem into a different state,” Veraverbeke said.