Supreme Court Divided after Hearing on EPA Authority

February 27, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a hearing Monday, the Supreme Court questioned whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is correct in its interpretation that regulating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles triggers the requirement to also implement permitting requirements for large stationary sources. At issue is the legality of EPA’s interpretation of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) regulations. Industry groups argue that the PSD permitting requirements apply to certain pollutants, whereas the EPA argues that they apply to all pollutants, including greenhouse gases. Ultimately, the more than 90-minute session ended with the justices divided over whether the EPA’s regulation of stationary source emissions through permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act was “a sensible accommodation or an impermissible exercise of executive authority.”

“As is so often the case when the court is closely divided, the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy loomed as the critical one, and that vote seemed inclined toward the EPA, though with some doubt,” said SCOTUS blogger Lyle Denniston. “Although he seemed troubled that Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. could call up no prior ruling to support the policy choice the EPA had made on greenhouse gases by industrial plants, Kennedy left the impression that it might not matter.”

A decision is expected by June. According to experts, the court’s ruling could have a range of effects on EPA’s permitting requirements.

If the Supreme Court rules against the EPA, the agency has several options, said Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Climate and Energy Program Director Jonas Monast (subscription). It could, for instance, devise new source performance standards for each individual source or regulate sources under another Clean Air Act program.

Nuclear Reviving

As some residents near the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster get the “all clear” to return to their homes April 1, Japan announced a plan to revive its nuclear program.

Overturning a previous commitment to phase out all nuclear, the draft government plan, which awaits Cabinet approval, instead calls for more long-term reliance on the energy source. It specifies that nuclear dependency will remain low but that reactors meeting standards set after the 2011 Fukushima disaster should be restarted. The Wall Street Journal reports 17 such reactors are undergoing inspection now.

In the United States, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz provided final approval for a $6.5 billion dollar loan guarantee that will be used to construct two nuclear reactors in Georgia—the first built in the United States in more than 30 years. Days later, President Barack Obama approved a deal with Vietnam that would allow the nation to develop nuclear power.

Obama: Decision on Keystone Could Come Soon

A decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline—carrying crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast—will be made in the next “couple of months,” President Barack Obama told attendees at the annual National Governors Association winter meeting Monday. The White House declined to expand on Obama’s comment at the private meeting. Politico reports that it contradicts speculation by parties on both sides that the decision will come after November’s mid-term elections. That speculation began last week after a ruling by a Nebraska judge that struck down a state law approving the pipeline’s route through the state.

The president’s Keystone decision comment came a day after Canada’s National Energy Board audit found TransCanada Corp—the company leading the Keystone XL project—could make improvements in its pipeline safety practices. The audit was moved up after a then-employee of TransCanada came forward with allegations of safety lapses.

“The audit has confirmed that, in response to these allegations, TransCanada has developed and implemented a program of actions with the goal of correcting and preventing similar occurrences,” the National Energy Board said. The board found TransCanada to be non-compliant in four areas: hazard identification, risk assessment and control; operational control in upset or abnormal operating condition; inspection, measurement and monitoring; and management review.

Despite claims the State Department violated conflict of interest rules when it chose an outside contractor to conduct an environmental impact study of the proposed pipeline, a report issued Wednesday found otherwise.

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 XL Assessment Report Finds No Significant Environmental Objections

February 6, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The State Department issued its final environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline, which echoed findings in previous analyses that the pipeline would lead to no substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It found that approximately 147-168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide would be created by producing, refining and burning the pipeline’s oil. The report’s release kicks off a 30-day public comment period as well as a 90-day “national interest determination” period during which eight federal agencies are allowed to offer their views. Ultimately, the decision on the permit for Keystone XL rests with President Barack Obama.

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios,” the report states.

The analysis also discounted claims that oil transported from Canada to the Gulf Coast, through Keystone XL, would mainly benefit countries like China. The petroleum industry expected the pipeline to create tens of thousands of jobs; the report found it would directly and indirectly support about 42,100. It’s a point Obama disputed in an interview Monday night.

“First of all, it’s not 42,000,” he said. “That’s not correct. It’s a couple thousand to build the pipeline.”

Many environmentalists disputed the report’s objectivity; supporters viewed the assessment as clearing the way to a permit.

Farm Bill, New Climate Hubs to Provide Support for Farmers

The same week the Senate approved a long-stalled farm bill—now slated to be signed by President Barack Obama on Friday—the Obama administration announced plans to open “climate hubs” to help farmers adapt to drought, fire risk and other problems linked to global warming.

“For generations, America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have innovated and adapted to challenges,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Today, they face a new and more complex threat in the form of a changing and shifting climate, which impacts both our nation’s forests and our farmers’ bottom lines. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.”

Seven locations in Ames, Iowa; Durham, N.H.; Raleigh, N.C.; Fort Collins, Colo.; El Reno, Okla.; Corvallis, Ore.; and Las Cruces, N.M., will link local agriculture producers with universities, industry groups, state governments and federal agencies. Other “subsidiary hubs” will be in Houghton, Mich.; Davis, Calif., and Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.

The new hubs are intended to provide farmers with ways to better cope with a changing climate, such as helping wheat farmers to select seeds with relatively drought-resistant genetics.

California Drought Worsens

In the country’s most populous state, farmers and ranchers are dealing with one of the issues the new climate hubs will tackle: drought. Nearly 9 percent of California was in exceptional drought as the state entered its 13th month of drought. Much of the rest of the state—about 67 percent—is in extreme drought.

The State Water Project, which supplies water to many in California, cut off allocations in several districts. Snowpack in the Sierra mountain range is historically low. Wildfires have been running far above average. Lack of rainfall has cut into the state’s hydropower supplies.

“Among all our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic,” said California Gov. Jerry Brown in his State of the State address. “We can’t control it. We can only live with it, and now we have to live with a very serious drought of uncertain duration … We do not know how much our current problem derives from the build-up of heat-trapping gases, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.”

An emergency drought relief bill was passed by the House, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced funds to aid farmers.

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 Promises Strong Action on Climate Change, Energy Independence in State of the Union Address

January 30, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama took just 5 minutes of the 65-minute speech to cover energy and environment issues. He declared climate change “a fact,” stating “when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Despite this assertion, National Geographic reports Obama’s efforts on climate change since his last State of the Union address have come up short in the minds of many in the environmental community. On Tuesday, Obama did mention a number of issues, most of which he had discussed before, to deal with climate change. He wants to set new fuel efficiency standards for trucks, and he promised to “cut red tape” to establish natural-gas-powered factories and fueling stations for cars and trucks. He endorsed natural gas not only as an economic driver, but also as a way to further cut emissions.

He also mentioned efforts to set emissions limits for power plants, and, if necessary, to use his executive power to move the effort forward. But portending the political drama to come, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted earlier Tuesday to scrap a measure (subscription) to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

Obama went on to tout the administration’s work toward attaining energy independence, offering that there is more “oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world.” According to White House reports, domestic crude oil production surpassed crude oil imports in October 2013 for the first time since 1995.

The president did not mention whether he intends to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline—projected to carry tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The closest he came, Politico reports, was alluding to “tough choices along the way” during a shift to a “cleaner energy economy.” Coal, nuclear power and wind—sources responsible for 60 percent of the nation’s electricity generation—received no mention.

Long-Awaited Farm Bill Passes House

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a five-year farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, containing provisions for renewable energy, energy efficiency programs in rural areas, cuts to food stamps and modifications to the federal agricultural subsidy system.

The bill, which will now go before the Senate, contains $881 million in mandatory funding for energy programs. The provision—which extends over the next 10 years—provides funding for projects focused on advanced biofuels and a program encouraging the development of wind, solar, hydroelectric and biogas projects.

“With stable policy and the investments included in this conference report, Farm Bill energy programs will continue to help rural communities create economic growth and good paying jobs,” said Biotechnology Industry Organization President and CEO Jim Greenwood. “The expansion of eligibility to new renewable chemical technologies and the support for new energy crops will create additional opportunities and improve U.S. economic growth across the country.”

The bill also includes an enhanced crop insurance program that would aid livestock producers in the event of a natural disaster and severe weather.

Botched Analysis Leaves Arctic Drilling in Question

The federal government failed to properly evaluate environmental risks related to offshore drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, a federal appellate court ruled recently. Three Ninth Circuit Court judges found the environmental review the U.S. Department of the Interior conducted before approving the sale of 2008 drilling leases considered the impact of drilling for 1 billion barrels of oil. A lawsuit brought by environmental groups and Native Alaska tribes alleged a larger environmental impact given that available oil was much higher.

The ruling brings the oil leases, covering some 30 million acres of sea floor, into question. And it means another setback for Shell, which announced plans to resume exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer, following several mishaps in the area in 2012. Of the companies that purchased leases in 2008, Shell is the only company that has begun drilling in the Arctic. On Thursday, the oil giant announced it will abandon plans to drill off the coast of Alaska this year.

The case is currently scheduled to return to a U.S. District Court in Alaska.

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 Doesn’t Need Congress to Move Forward on Clean Energy

January 23, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A week before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, a new report says Obama could advance key measures of his Climate Action Plan with or without the cooperation of Congress.

“When they believed a national situation warranted action, some past presidents interpreted their authority broadly and exercised it aggressively,” the report said. “That is the practice of presidential authority Americans and the world need today.”

More than 200 recommendations for how Obama can use his executive authority to accelerate progress on climate change are contained in the 207-page Powering Forward report released by the Center for the New Energy Economy and developed with the help of CEOs, energy experts, academicians and thought leaders. The recommendations focus on clean energy solutions such as doubling energy efficiency, financing renewable energy, producing natural gas more responsibly, developing alternative fuels and vehicles and helping utilities adapt to a changing energy landscape.

Most of the recommendations aren’t all that new, but a few, says Oilprice.com, are interesting. One suggestion is to modify mortgage rules so that qualifying for federally backed mortgage loans requires new homes to be constructed with updated energy efficiency standards.

Despite the report’s ideas for the future, 2013 saw many clean energy developments. The Rocky Mountain Institute calls out 10—including growth in the electric vehicle sector and companies putting a price on carbon—that helped bring the country closer to a secure, prosperous energy future.

NASA, NOAA Label 2013 One of the Planet’s Warmest Years

A pair of reports simultaneously released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reached different conclusions about where 2013 ranks among the world’s hottest years.

NOAA said last year’s average world temperature of 58.12 degrees tied with that of 2003 for the fourth hottest year since 1880—when record keeping began. NASA ranked 2013 the seventh warmest on record—tying 2009 and 2006. The slight difference in rankings, scientists said, could be explained by the methods used by the agencies to interpret the same weather data collected from more than 1,000 metrological stations across the globe. NASA, for example, uses more samples from Antarctica.

Regardless of the difference in rankings, both agencies found that nine of the 10 warmest years on record were in the 21st century. According to NASA, the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere peaked in 2013 at 400 parts per million—higher than any point in the last 800,000 years. The level was 285 parts per million in 1880.

“Long-term trends in surface temperature are unusual and 2013 adds to the evidence for ongoing climate change,” said Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “While one year or one season can be affected by random weather events, this analysis shows the necessity for continued, long-term monitoring.”

Schmidt said 2014 is likely to be even warmer than 2013, remarkable partly because El Nino, the periodic warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, was absent in 2013.

“Through the second half of 2014 we are looking at the likelihood of an El Nino, which will help warm 2014 over 2013,” he said.

Southern Leg of Keystone Begins Exporting Oil

TransCanada began delivering oil on Wednesday from Oklahoma to customers in Nederland, Texas, through the southern portion of a controversial proposed cross-border pipeline. The start of commercial operations for this leg of the Keystone XL pipeline came with little fanfare after approval by the president nearly two years ago. Although landowners in East Texas continue to challenge TransCanada’s right to take their land for the pipeline, it’s the northern leg of the pipeline, which is projected to carry oil from Canada, that’s been most controversial.

The northern portion of the pipeline still awaits approval by the U.S. State Department. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry brushed aside pressure from Canada, offering that he’s not yet received a critical environmental report on the long delayed project.

“My hope is that before long, that analysis will be available, and then my work begins,” he said.

TransCanada acknowledged it has plans to look at building rail terminals in Alberta and Oklahoma if the Obama administration declines to approve the pipeline’s northern leg. Recent accidents involving oil-bearing trains may put more pressure on the administration to approve the pipeline.

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.


EIA Releases Early Predictions from Annual Energy Outlook

December 19, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: In observance of the upcoming holidays, the Climate Post will not circulate the next two weeks. It will return Jan. 9, 2014. 

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Monday released a 20-page preview of its Annual Energy Outlook 2014, which includes projections of U.S. energy supply, demand and prices through 2040.

Although the full report won’t be released until spring 2014, the preview projects a spike of 800,000 barrels a day in domestic crude oil production in 2014. By 2016, U.S. oil production will reach historical levels—close to the 9.6 million barrels a day achieved in 1970. The feat—made possible by fracking and other advanced drilling technologies—is expected to bring imported oil supplies down to 25 percent, compared with the current 37 percent, by 2016. Eventually though, the boom will level off, and production will slowly decline after 2020.

Natural gas will replace coal as the largest source of U.S. electricity. In 2040, natural gas will account for 35 percent of total electricity generation, while coal will account for 32 percent. Production of natural gas is predicted to increase 56 percent between 2012 and 2040; the U.S. will become an overall net exporter of the fuel by 2018—roughly two years earlier than the EIA projected in last year’s forecast.

“EIA’s updated Reference case shows that advanced technologies for crude oil and natural gas production are continuing to increase domestic supply and reshape the U.S. energy economy as well as expand the potential for U.S. natural gas exports,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski. “Growing domestic hydrocarbon production is also reducing our net dependence on imported oil and benefiting the U.S. economy as natural-gas-intensive industries boost their output.”

Total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are also predicted to remain below 2005 levels—roughly 6 billion metric tons—through 2040.

Oil to Flow from Southern Leg of Keystone Pipeline in 2014

Next month some 700,000 barrels per day are expected to begin flowing from Cushing, Okla. to Texas through the 485-mile pipeline that forms the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline project. Initial testing, before the Jan. 22 launch, is showing no issues with the pipeline or shippers, according to project lead TransCanada.

Construction of the southern leg required only state environmental permits and permission by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The northern leg—bringing crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast—has been more controversial. It awaits presidential approval on a trans-border permit.

Even so, TransCanada announced it has reached an agreement with 100 percent of landowners in five of the six states through which the 1,700-mile northern leg will pass. The remaining holdouts are in Nebraska, where the pipeline’s route was reworked to avoid crossing the Sand Hills aquifer.

U.S. Military to Utilize More Biofuel

On the heels of a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lower the country’s 2014 biofuel mandate, the U.S. military announced plans to make biofuel blends part of its regular “operational fuel purchase” through a collaboration of the Navy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The Navy’s intensifying efforts to use advanced, homegrown fuels to power our military benefits both America’s national security and our rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Not only will production of these fuels create jobs in rural America, they’re cost effective for our military, which is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the nation.”

Sudden fuel price spikes—responsible for as much as $5 billion in unbudgeted fuel increases—were cited as one reason for the program, which will begin in 2014. Deliveries are expected in mid-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.


Reports: Ocean Acidification Heats Planet, Changes Ecosystems

August 29, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Two new studies showcase the greater dangers of rising ocean temperatures.

The first, in the journal Nature Climate Change, finds rising carbon dioxide levels that make oceans more acidic can also raise global temperatures. The authors find ocean acidification would lead certain marine organisms to emit less of the sulphur compounds that help with cloud formations that cool Earth. When the data were fed into climate models, the authors estimated reduction of this compound could add nearly 0.5 degrees Celsius to global temperatures this century.

A second paper in the same journal focuses on how acidification will change marine ecosystems. The authors looked at 167 studies on more than 150 species under a wide range of carbon dioxide concentrations.

“Our study showed that all animal groups we considered are affected negatively by higher carbon dioxide concentrations,” said study co-author Astrid Wittmann. “Corals, echinoderms and molluscs above all react very sensitively to a decline in pH value.”

Seas are naturally slightly alkaline, but pH levels fall as oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The research is expected to be included in the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth Assessment Report on climate science. An early leaked draft of the U.N. report shows ocean temperatures rose more than 0.18 degrees Fahrenheit each decade of the last 40 years (through 2010).

McCabe Could Be Next EPA Air Chief

Janet McCabe, a deputy administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s clean-air office, is expected to be nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the office, the National Journal reports. If selected, McCabe would spearhead efforts to craft new pollution regulations for the nation’s coal-fired power plants, which she discusses in a recent EPA webinar. Timing of an announcement regarding a nomination, however, was unclear to sources (subscription).

Keystone XL Decision in Danger of Delay

Results of an investigation into conflict of interest complaints related to the Keystone XL pipeline may not be released until early 2014. The announcement by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) means a final decision on the project could be delayed until next year.

“It is our hope to conclude work by the end of the year and release a report in January,” said Douglas Welty, an OIG spokesman. “As to the timing of the department’s decision—you need to ask them directly whether our work will have an impact on that.”

A story in the National Journal suggests one portion of the pipeline—proposed back in 2008—may have become obsolete.

“They just waited too long. The industry is very innovative, and it finds other ways of doing it and other routes,” said Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm, of the portion of the pipeline that would carry oil from fields in North Dakota to Montana.

Climate Change Considerations in Wake of Sandy

A presidential task force created after Hurricane Sandy has issued a 200-page report with 69 policy recommendations to promote stronger construction as climate change contributes to more intense storms and extreme heat. Among other actions, it calls for more advanced energy infrastructure and streamlined assistance for affected communities.

“Decision makers at all levels must recognize that climate change and the resulting increase in risks from extreme weather have eliminated the option of simply building back to outdated standards and expecting better outcomes after the next extreme event,” the report says.

It includes a 15-page section dedicated to threats due to climate change. Many of the initiatives suggested to deal with these threats, such as a minimum flood risk standard, have already been put into action (subscription).

Meanwhile, House Republicans are planning a hearing on the White House’s climate change agenda with leaders of 13 federal agencies next month. It is expected to touch on the science underpinning global climate change.

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.

 


EPA Finalizes Biofuel Mandate

August 8, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a break from circulation the next two weeks. We will return to our regular posting schedule August 29.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced final 2013 biofuel volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard. Issued Tuesday, the final rule lowers targets for biofuels production in 2014—requiring that 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels be blended into the U.S. fuel supply including 1.28 billion gallons from biomass-based diesel fuel and 2.75 billion gallons from advanced biofuels. These are the same quotas proposed by the EPA in February. The agency’s initial 14 million gallon cellulosic biofuel quota, however, was dropped to 6 million gallons.

Additional time was also given for refiners to meet 2013 volume quotas. The EPA now requires compliance by June 30, 2014—a four-month extension. When it comes to future quota limits, the EPA says it will utilize “flexibilities” in the law to reduce the amount of biofuel needed next year, when a “wall” is projected.

The Washington Post offers some backstory on why the targets—which were supposed to hit 16.55 billion gallons in 2013 and rise to 36 billion gallons in 2022—have been hard to reach.

Study: Sea Level Rise Threatens to Put Cities Underwater

A new study finds rising sea levels will threaten some 1,400 cities and towns in the United States by 2100 if global emissions continue to increase. Prior emissions have locked in 4 feet of future sea level rise, the study suggests, and 3.6 million Americans live in 316 municipalities already at risk, in places such as New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale and Atlantic City. Should global emissions continue to increase, the study states that the world may experience 23 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, putting more than 1,000 cities and towns at risk.

“The current trend in carbon emissions likely implies the eventual crippling or loss of most coastal cities in the world,” said Benjamin Strauss, a study author and Climate Central scientist. “It’s like this invisible threat.”

Keystone XL Decision Could Experience Further Delays

Although President Barack Obama vowed to rule before 2014 on the Keystone XL pipeline—which would carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico—an upcoming trial could delay a final decision (subscription). The suit, set for trial in Nebraska Sept. 27, contends the Nebraska state legislature unconstitutionally gave Gov. Dave Heineman authority to approve the pipeline’s route. A win could force a more than 1,000-mile leg of the project to go through the siting process again.

Mother Jones reports that another pipeline project is quietly moving ahead. The 774-mile Eastern Gulf Crude Access Pipeline project would run from Illinois to Louisiana and is projected to carry oil quantities similar to those that could flow through the Keystone XL by 2015.

Warming Climate Linked to More Violent Behavior

When temperatures rise, so does aggression, according to a new study in the journal Science. The analysis looked at several dozen studies examining the relationship between climate and conflict in most regions of the world over the last 10,000 years. It revealed that even slight spikes in temperature have increased the risk of personal violence and social upheaval throughout history, a finding that could have critical implications for understanding the impact of climate change on future societies.

“Past climatic events have exerted significant influence on human conflict,” the study authors wrote (subscription). “If future populations respond similarly to past populations, then anthropogenic climate change has the potential to substantially increase conflict around the world, relative to a world without climate change.”

Some national security experts and scholars are skeptical of the conclusion, questioning whether the link to climate change is established and citing prior studies that suggest the opposite connection is true. Authors of the Science study have taken on some of these critiques.

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.

 


With Oklahoma Tornado, Questions Swirl about Climate Change Link

May 23, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hours after a powerful tornado tore through an Oklahoma suburb, killing dozens, some renewed speculation about such storms’ connection to climate change. In recent years, researchers have been working to assess what causes these storms and whether manmade global warming could be affecting them.

Plain geography is a factor. Moore, Oklahoma, is in the middle of what is known as Tornado Alley—an area where cold, dry air from Canada and the Rockies meets warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to create the unstable conditions that cause tornados. Although, generally, researchers agree that climate change will increase the likelihood of extreme weather events, they cannot say for sure whether there is a connection between climate change and tornadoes.

“The short answer is, we have no idea,” said Michael Wehner, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, noting he’s studying the issue and is optimistic about achieving a more definitive answer. “The reason I’m optimistic that we can get somewhere on this is that supercomputing technology is driving this very hard. We’re just getting into the sweet spot for these kinds of issues, with the largest mainframes that money can buy.”

Studies, the Houston Chronicle cites, indicate no evidence at this time to link tornado activity to climate change. According to the National Weather Service, tornadoes aren’t getting more frequent, but more accounts of these storms are being made available for public consumption.

Vote Expedites Northern Leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline

The House approved legislation Wednesday to expedite construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline’s northern leg by eliminating the need for a presidential permit and requiring no additional environmental studies. The vote was largely symbolic, U.S. News and World Report wrote, noting that experts say it has virtually no chance of surviving a Senate vote. The White House has also threatened to veto the bill, claiming it “prevents thorough consideration of the complex issues that could have serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications.”

So far, the Canadian government has nearly doubled spending—reaching $16.5 million—to promote the pipeline. But it seems Americans are more aware of climate change than the Keystone XL pipeline project, according to a new poll (subscription) by Yale and George Mason universities.

Moniz Vows to Review LNG Export Data, Energy Efficiency in New Role

In his first official speech after being sworn in as Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz indicated he plans to delay any final decisions on applications to export liquefied natural gas until he reviews data showing what impact exports would have on domestic supplies and prices. The boom in domestic production of the resource has lowered prices and stirred debate regarding exports. Moniz doesn’t plan to order new studies right now. Rather, he’ll review what is already out there—including a study commissioned in 2012 by the Department of Energy.

He saw efficiency as a vital part of meeting the country’s climate and energy challenges, noting he plans to advance a large bipartisan energy efficiency bill moving through Congress.

“Efficiency is going to be a big focus as we go forward,” Moniz said. “I just don’t see the solutions to our biggest energy and environmental challenges without a very big demand-side response. That’s why it’s important to move this way, way up in our priorities.”

Meanwhile, Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama’s pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has waited longer than any other nominee for U.S. Senate confirmation—more than 20 days longer than Michael Leavitt in 2003.

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


Climate Change Resurfaces in President’s Second Inaugural Address

January 24, 2013

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In his remarks at the 57th presidential inauguration, President Barack Obama discussed a topic Americans hadn’t heard much about since his November victory speech—climate change. In the nationally televised speech following his oath of office, Obama elevated the issue of climate change into the top tier of his second-term priorities, alongside gun control and immigration reform.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition—we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”

How would he do it? Scientific American had some answers based on written responses Obama provided the news outlet in November—touching on reduced oil dependence and clean energy. More details about Obama’s climate initiatives could come during the State of the Union Address Feb. 12. Expectations generally, and of a legislative solution in particular, were tempered by the statements of White House Spokesman Jay Carney the day after the speech. Other energy insiders think the administration will lean toward the same low-key approach they’ve taken since 2009.

Cutting Carbon without Congress

Although it is too soon to tell whether a commitment to climate change in a second term will translate into a push for legislation in 2013, there are other options available to Obama reports The Washington Post. Chief among them is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and impose carbon limits on existing coal- and gas-fired utilities, which are responsible for some 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually—or about 40 percent of total U.S. emissions. These “stationary sources” are covered in section 111 of the Act, which has provisions for regulating new sources under 111(b) and existing sources under 111(d). How these rules are constructed will help to define Obama’s term.

The Natural Resources Defense Council released a detailed plan for constructing these regulations appropriately and cutting carbon emissions from power plants more than 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. The plan, NRDC notes, could stimulate investments of more than $90 billion in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources over the next eight years. Meanwhile, researchers at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, alongside other leading experts, have produced a report that looks at the options, limitations and impacts of regulating existing sources of carbon dioxide under section 111 (d) of the Clean Air Act. It concludes that states have choices and the flexibility to develop cost-effective plans when regulating carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. This is mainly due to the broad language of the section, which can be interpreted in many ways.

By April, the EPA is expected to complete carbon emissions standards for new power plants—closely followed by those for existing sources. As The National Journal notes, Obama’s climate change vow could make the EPA a political target.

Keystone XL a Test for ‘All of the Above’ Energy Strategy

While Obama has stressed the importance of the nation’s growing oil and gas supplies in his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, coal, gas and oil went unmentioned Monday during his inauguration speech Monday.

Obama’s words regarding climate change will soon be tested, some environmental groups said, when he decides whether or not to approve the roughly 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline that will carry tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Obama vetoed the original plan for the pipeline. Among the main obstacles Obama cited for delaying the project a year ago was that landowners in Nebraska have worried the pipeline could contaminate the Ogallala aquifer. Now that Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has approved a revised route through his state, that objection no longer applies. The BBC reports that Obama’s green energy agenda could be defined by this decision—even though any action is still months away.

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

 


Climate Change under the Microscope in Report, Leaked IPCC Draft

December 20, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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

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

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

Soot Standard Updated

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

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

2013 Climate and Energy Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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