The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16 to 14 to approve an amendment to restore funding for the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a spending bill for the State Department, setting up a negotiation with the House over its version of the State funding bill, which does not fund the U.N. climate agency.

“[This] fits in with Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson’s desire that we both continue to monitor the changes in the world’s climate and that we keep a seat at the table,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who sponsored the amendment.

The Senate bill would direct $10 million to the body that oversees U.N. efforts to address climate change, despite President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut funding in his first budget draft earlier this year. Since 1992 the United States has contributed some 20 percent of operational funding—$6.44 million—for the secretariat of the UNFCCC and last year provided 45 percent—$2 million—to its science wing, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Senate bill would not restore U.S. funding for the Green Climate Fund, which helps poor countries adapt to climate change.

The vote on the bill came between two highly destructive hurricanes that representatives of some small island nations are pointing to as they press their case for wealthy countries to pay not just for adaptation but also for climate-related “loss and damage.”

“If ever there was a case for loss and damage, this is it,” Ronny Jumeau, U.N. ambassador from Indian Ocean island nation the Seychelles, told Reuters, referring to Hurricane Irma and other recent storms.

“Hurricane Irma graphically shows the destructive power of climate change and underscores that loss and damage isn’t some abstract concept, but the reality of life today for the people who contributed least to the problem,” said Thoriq Ibrahim, Maldives’ environment minister who chairs the U.N. negotiating bloc Alliance of Small Island States.

On Wednesday, the House voted to block funding for an Obama-era U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effort to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas drilling sites. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had imposed a two-year delay on the implementation of the 2016 regulation to review the rules and potentially roll them back. But in July, a federal appeals court blocked the Trump administration from eliminating the methane rule.

DOE Solar Program Hits Target Early; Funding Issued for Cybersecurity

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), this week, announced that efforts to make solar power more cost-competitive hit a key target. The average price of utility-scale solar is now 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)—a price hit three years ahead of a target DOE set through the SunShot Initiative in 2011.

“It’s important to celebrate the progress we’ve made, and be realistic about the challenges that lie ahead,” said Dan Simmons, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “Solar’s costs have dramatically declined, but electricity rates have not. As we experience greater penetration of solar [photovoltaics], we experience new challenges.”

DOE attributed the early milestone to rapid declines in the cost of hardware.

In the same announcement, DOE said it will spend $82 million to research energy storage and technologies that could help grid operators detect problems rapidly not only to reduce physical and cyber vulnerabilities, but also to enable consumers to manage electricity use.

Separately, the DOE also announced plans to fund $20 million in energy cybersecurity projects through an array of national labs, universities and private companies.

“This investment will keep us moving forward to create yet more real-world capabilities that the energy sector can put into practice to continue improving the resilience and security of the country’s critical energy infrastructure,” said Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Hurricanes Raise Climate Change Issue

The devastation following two hurricanes—Harvey and Irma—that made landfall in the United States this month and last have renewed debate about climate change. On a plane ride from Columbia, Pope Francis—who has spoken out about the issue previously—weighed in on the debate.

“If we don’t turn back, we will go down,” said Pope Francis. “Those who deny it should go to the scientists and ask them. They are very clear, very precise. They [world leaders] decide and history will judge those decisions.”

Although many in the Trump administration are not discussing climate change, it is rumored that National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn will host an energy and climate discussion with international officials.

The invitation, obtained by Politico, says the gathering is an “opportunity for key ministers with responsibility for these issues to engage in an informal exchange of views and discuss how we can move forward most productively.”

A White House official told The New York Times that the meeting was intended to be an informal discussion to help the Trump administration find a way to fulfill the president’s pledge to reduce emissions without harming the American economy.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Trump administration is proposing to repeal a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule aimed at ensuring hydraulic fracturing does not pollute water supplies, claiming that it triggers unjustified compliance costs and duplicates state rules.

“Upon further review of the 2015 final rule … the BLM believes that the 2015 final rule unnecessarily burdens industry with compliance costs and information requirements that are duplicative of regulatory programs of many states and some tribes,” agency officials wrote. “As a result, we are proposing to rescind, in its entirety, the 2015 final rule.”

The rule imposed well casing and wastewater storage requirements as well as required drillers to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulically fractured wells. Estimated to cost the oil and gas industry $32 million to $45 million a year, the rule has been the target of legal challenges since it was finalized in 2015.

It was among several Obama-era environmental rules President Donald Trump directed his administration to review and potentially rescind in a March executive order (subscription).

Research Highlights Little Studied Source of Methane Emissions

Climate change is allowing the release of methane from thawed permafrost according to aerial samplings of emissions from Canada’s Mackenzie River Basin, home to known oil and gas deposits. Research published in the journal Scientific Reports shows that the melting permafrost contributes to a warming climate not just through the natural production of biogenic methane but also through emissions of fossil gas, contributing significantly to the permafrost-carbon-climate feedback.

Between 2012 and 2013, the research team led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences took aerial geochemical samples, finding 13 times more methane than would be expected from typical microbial methane emissions rates. Although geological methane hotspots cover only 1 percent of the total area of the basin, they contribute to some 17 percent of its annual methane emissions.

“This is another methane source that has not been included so much in the models,” said lead author Katrin Kohnert. “If, in other regions, the permafrost becomes discontinuous, more areas will contribute geologic methane.”

Trump Cabinet: New Environment Nomination Draws Criticism

President Donald Trump has nominated Samuel Clovis to serve as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary of research, education and economics, the department’s top science post. Clovis is a former college economics professor and talk radio who has challenged the scientific consensus that human activity has been the primary driver of climate change.

The Washington Post points to2014 interview with Iowa Public Radio, where Clovis noted that he was “extremely skeptical” about climate change and added that “a lot of the science is junk science.”

E&E Daily reports that some see Clovis as committed to agricultural research. CNN and other media outlets highlighted a stipulation in the Farm Bill that “the Under Secretary shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics,”—requirements, they say, that Clovis’ nomination appears to violate.

A White House statement about Clovis’ nomination lists his background as largely military, noting that “Clovis holds a B.S. in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University and a Doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama. He is also a graduate of both the Army and Air Force War Colleges. After graduating from the Academy, Mr. Clovis spent 25 years serving in the Air Force.”

His nomination was among eight sent to the Senate Tuesday.

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 Tuesday the Trump administration released its proposed fiscal 2018 budget, which detailed deep cuts to energy and environmental programs—cuts telegraphed by the White House’s budget outline in March. The reductions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy and Interior departments were defended by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as necessary to boost Pentagon accounts and leave Social Security untouched at hearings with the House and Senate Budget committees yesterday and today, respectively.

In broad strokes, the budget calls for a 31 percent cut for the EPA, an 11 percent cut for the Interior Department, and an almost 6 percent cut for the Energy Department.

The EPA cuts, outlined in budget documents obtained on Monday by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, include zeroing out of some programs and significantly reduced funding for research into climate change. Some of the EPA cuts would

  • Reduce science and technology funding by nearly 40 percent to $450 million.
  • Cut grants to states for their own air and other environmental protections from $3.6 billion to $2.9 billion.
  • Remove all $19 million in aid for Alaskan native villages under threat from warming temperatures and rising sea levels.
  • Scrap the $8 million used to fund the greenhouse gas reporting program, which lists carbon emissions from industrial facilities.

“During the previous administration the pendulum went too far to one side where we were spending too much of your money on climate change and not very efficiently. We don’t get rid of it here. Do we target it? Sure. Do a lot of the EPA reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes. Does it mean we are anti-science? Absolutely not,” Mulvaney said on Tuesday.

At the Energy Department, the Trump administration would slash funding for clean energy programs, power grid operations and next-generation energy technologies, reversing years of collaboration with the private sector and academia to advance clean energy transmission and reliability, smart grid research and development, and energy storage (subscription). Some of the Energy Department cuts would

  • Halve the budget of the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, which oversees efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, supports research in clean energy technologies, and provides the majority of funding for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Weatherization and state energy subprograms are targeted for elimination.
  • Gut cutting-edge technology, leaving just $20 million to close out the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and cutting fossil research and development funding by more than half—funding that supports research on carbon capture and sequestration and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.
  • Decrease funding for the Office of Nuclear Energy by about a third.
  • Decrease funding for the Office of Science, which oversees the majority of the national energy labs, from $5.3 billion to $4.5 billion.

At the Interior Department, the Trump administration would significantly reduce new federal land acquisitions and revenue-sharing partnerships with states, but pursue new oil and drilling opportunities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge starting in 2022. One of the Interior Department cuts would repeal payments to counties that produce geothermal energy as an alternative heat and energy source.

The president’s proposed budget is likely to face considerable pushback from Congress. “Almost every president’s budget proposal that I know of is basically dead on arrival,” Senator John Cornyn told CNN just hours before the budget release.

Court Suspends Litigation on Methane Leaks Rule

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the foreseeable future paused litigation over the Obama administration’s curbs on methane—a short-lived greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide—for new oil and gas operations. The court granted the Trump administration’s request to hold the litigation in abeyance (subscription) in the wake of a March “energy independence” executive order, which required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the new source methane standards, along with other Obama administration actions to address climate change.

The ruling came a week after the U.S. Senate rejected a resolution to repeal a 2016 Bureau of Land Management methane rule, which limits venting, flaring, and equipment leaks at more than 100,000 oil and gas wells on public and tribal lands across the West.

In light of the Senate’s failure to kill that rule, the American Petroleum Institute (API) last week asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to postpone compliance with it (subscription). In a letter to Zinke, API urged that compliance dates for the methane and waste prevention rule be pushed off for two years. Industry and states are challenging the rule in court, and the Trump administration has promised to review it (subscription).

Study: Sea-level Rise Not Just Under Way—It’s Accelerating

The pace of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990, due largely to an acceleration in the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, according to a new study, which detected a larger rate of increase than previous studies by taking a new approach to handling of pre-satellite data. Overall, the new reconstruction of sea-level rise is similar to that of other researchers except for the reconstruction during the early 1900s, when it shows ocean levels rising at a slower pace. Consequently, it shows a faster acceleration of sea-level rise over recent decades.

The study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about 1.1 millimeters per year, or just 0.43 inches per decade. But from 1993 through 2012, it finds that they rose at 3.1 millimeters per year, or 1.22 inches per decade.

Last week, a group of scientists, including three working for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), published a paper that highlighted the link between sea-level rise and global climate change, arguing that studies may have underestimated coastal flooding risks. The Washington Post reported that the Department of Interior, which houses the USGS, angered some of the authors by removing this line from the news release on the study: “Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding.” According to co-author Chip Fletcher of the University of Hawaii, the deletion didn’t make the release wrong—but it did make it incomplete. “It did not cause any direct inaccuracy,” said Fletcher, “but it did eliminate an important connection to be made by the reader—that global warming is causing sea-level rise.”

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Tuesday, the White House postponed a scheduled meeting of officials to discuss the fate of the Paris Agreement, which business leaders and the international community (subscription) have pressed U.S. President Donald Trump to continue to support and which Trump’s conservative allies have urged him to exit. The decision will now come after the Group of Seven summit in late May.

The president’s potential rejection of the agreement loomed over both this week’s intersessional climate talks, held under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, and the two-day Arctic Council ministerial meeting, where there’s anxiety that Trump’s dismissal of the science backing climate change will mean that the customary declaration on Arctic priorities will have to weaken wording (subscription) on Paris-related emissions targets and their impact on the Arctic.

The administration’s ambivalence toward the Paris Agreement was signaled by the number of U.S. representatives at the Bonn climate talks, which are focused on implementing the details of the deal to combat climate change. According to a list of registered participants, the U.S. government sent just seven representatives to the meeting—one fewer than Tonga and dozens fewer than the Obama administration sent to last year’s talks.

The U.S. State Department said the small team reflects the fact that the United States is working out its climate priorities.

“We are focused on ensuring that decisions are not taken at these meetings that would prejudice our future policy, undermine the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, or hamper our broader objective of advancing U.S. economic growth and prosperity,” a spokesperson said.

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. He has already begun to reverse regulations implemented by the Obama administration to help meet the U.S. pledge to reduce emissions by 26–28 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2025. U.S. action to make good on that pledge will come under review as part of the multilateral assessment process that will take place May 12–13 at the Bonn meeting.

Proponents of the Paris Agreement worry that without the participation of the United States, the second largest global emitter behind China, meeting the agreement’s goal of keeping temperature increases under 1.5 Celsius compared with preindustrial levels will be impossible and that a U.S. withdrawal from the deal would make it harder for other countries to maintain their ambitions. In his budget proposal, Trump is seeking to cut an outstanding $2 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund.

Although continued U.S. participation in the global climate accord remains a question mark, Washington will not withdraw from participation in climate science on the Arctic. That was the word from the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, David Balton, ahead of the biennial Arctic Council ministerial meeting hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“The U.S. will remain engaged in the work the Arctic Council does on climate change throughout,” said Balton. “I am very confident there will be no change in that regard.”

During the meeting, members are expected to sign off on a report by the council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme showing that the worst effects of climate change are already happening in the Arctic and could have significant implications for the rest of the world. That report recommends that the Arctic nations lead efforts “for an early, ambitious, and full implementation” of the Paris Agreement.

Senate Fails to Repeal Rule to Limit Methane Releases from Energy Extraction on Public Lands

Yesterday a U.S. Senate resolution to repeal an Interior Department rule that limits venting and flaring of methane from natural gas drilling sites on public lands was rejected (subscription). It was the second-to-last day that the Senate could attempt to roll back the rule under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to undo recent regulations through an act of Congress. But the Interior Department signaled that the 51 to 49 vote does not end efforts to alter the Obama-era rule.

“As part of President Trump’s America-First Energy Strategy and executive order, the Department has reviewed and flagged the Waste Prevention rule as one we will suspend, revise or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation,” said Kate MacGregor, Interior’s acting assistant secretary for land and minerals (subscription).

The methane rule, finalized last November, seeks to reduce energy companies’ burn off of vast supplies of methane, the primary component of natural gas, at drilling sites. That practice, along with leaks, is estimated to waste $330 million a year in natural gas—enough to power some 5 million homes a year—ABC News reported.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said, in a letter to Ohio Senator Rob Portman, that his department would continue to regulate methane emissions (subscription) and would take “concrete action to reduce methane waste” if Congress passed the resolution rolling back the Obama-era rule. But how the department would have done so is unclear (subscription). Under the CRA, agencies cannot issue “substantially similar” rules on regulations that Congress has repealed without new legislation (subscription).

Pruitt Recuses Himself from Lawsuits, Considers Replacing Academics with Industry Experts

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt last week recused himself from a dozen lawsuits against the EPA that he pursued as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Those suits include one against the Clean Power Plan—the key component of former President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda—which a federal appeals court may hold in abeyance or send back to the agency for review.

“To demonstrate my profound commitment to carrying out my ethical responsibilities, while I am the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, I will not participate in any active cases in which Oklahoma is a party, petitioner or intervenor, including the following,” Pruitt wrote in the May 4 memo, before listing 12 cases from which he is recusing himself.

Among those cases are several involving Obama-era air rules, including the EPA’s methane regulations for new oil and gas sources, the 2015 ozone standard, and the agency’s cost analysis of mercury standards for power plants.

Although Pruitt will not take part in legal challenges, the Washington Post notes he will not recuse himself from EPA rulemaking processes, meaning he will continue to direct reviews of the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era regulations.

In what appears to be a move to alter how it assesses the science that underlies those and other regulations, the EPA last week began an overhaul of the Board of Scientific Counselors, which addresses important scientific questions and advises the agency on the integrity and rigor of its research. At an April meeting, the board discussed the importance of climate change research at EPA and “the growing need for information on, and understanding of, climate change and responses to its impacts” (subscription).

Agency spokesman J.P. Freire said Pruitt is thinking of replacing the board’s academics with experts from the industries typically regulated by the EPA.

“The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said Freire.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Two laws signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will ratchet up California’s fight against climate change by launching efforts to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. SB-32 calls for increased renewable energy use, more electric cars, improved energy efficiency, and emissions cuts from key industries. AB-197 provides aid to low-income or minority communities located near polluting facilities and creates a legislative committee to oversee regulators, giving lawmakers a greater voice in how climate goals are met.

“What we are doing is farsighted and far-reaching,” said Brown  at the bill’s signing. “I hope it sends a message across the country.”

The new legislation extends the state’s 2006 climate change law, which imposed limits on the carbon content of gasoline and diesel fuel and introduced a cap-and-trade program for polluters. It does not address the cap-and-trade program, which provides economic incentives to companies that achieve reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases. For each ton of greenhouse gases emitted, companies covered by the cap-and-trade program must purchase a permit. The state issues a limited number of permits through quarterly auctions.

Permit sales fizzled during the last two quarterly permit auctions, reports ABC News, but state officials say they are still on track to meet emissions goals. Brown has said the new legislation could provide leverage to convince businesses to support extension of the cap-and-trade program after 2020. If lawmakers don’t act to reauthorize the program soon, Brown said he might try putting the matter before voters in 2018.

Studies: Air Pollution Causes Premature Deaths, Lingers in Brain

Some 87 percent of the world’s population lives in areas affected by air pollution, which a joint study by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) finds is the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths worldwide. In 2013, the most recent year for which relevant estimates are available, indoor and outdoor air pollution caused 5.5 million premature deaths globally and imposed an economic cost in lost wages alone of $225 billion.

“Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital and constrains economic growth,” said Laura Tuck, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank. “We hope this study will translate the cost of premature deaths into an economic language that resonates with policymakers so that more resources will be devoted to improving air quality.”

GDP losses due to air pollution are significant, according to the World Bank-IHME report. It estimates that in 2013 China lost nearly 10 percent of its GDP, India, 7.69 percent, and Sri Lanka and Cambodia, roughly 8 percent. Welfare costs to developed countries were also high—about $45 billion to the United States. China suffered the highest welfare losses—about $1.5 trillion—followed by India at about $505.

And a separate study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that industrial air pollution leaves magnetic particles in the brain. Because unusually high concentrations of these “magnetite” are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the findings raise the specter of an alarming new environmental risk factor for this and other neurodegenerative diseases.

“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes,” said the Lancaster Environment Center’s Barbara Maher, who led the new research.

Research Examines Increase in Methane Emissions

Scientists around the world have been trying to figure out whether oil and gas production, particularly a boom in that production in the United States, could be responsible for the global rise in methane since 2007. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences adds to the debate (subscription).

“What’s going on in the gas and oil sector has been the big question with methane,” said lead author Andrew Rice, a researcher at Portland State University. “It’s not settled, but we give some new pieces to the puzzle.”

The study suggests that since the 1980s leaks by the fossil fuel industry have been increasing—by an average of 24 megatons per year. The increase went up in 2000 when methane emissions from biomass burning and rice cultivation decreased.

“We were kind of surprised by these results, to be completely honest,” Rice said. “I’d say up until our work, the evidence was showing that [fugitive] fossil fuel emissions were decreasing, based on ethane data.”

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.

Nations to Sign Paris Climate Agreement Friday

On April 21, 2016, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Four months after it was finalized by delegates to the Paris Climate Change Conference, the Paris Agreement will be signed by more than 100 nations on Friday. While the agreement is facially insufficient to meet its overall emissions objectives, the signing of the Paris agreement nevertheless is significant. It brings into effect the approach and policy infrastructure needed to tackle the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s ambitious goal to minimize human-caused climate change. The agreement does not solve the problem on its own, but it is a structured revisitation of the science and national commitments that provide the adaptive approach necessary to reach a solution. It is now on researchers and entrepreneurs to invent solutions; for governments, development banks and the private sector to deploy them; and for nations to hold each other accountable as this agreement goes into effect.

Energy innovation is just one of the benefits of the signing, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

“This will open up a market for energy innovation that U.S. companies have pioneered,” Earnest said. “This is going to open up a global market for the kind of renewable energy technology that U.S. companies are at the cutting edge of.”

Other shifts have occurred since the Paris Agreement was finalized, GreenBiz reports. Big companies have backed the Clean Power Plan, there’s a rise in “sub-national” climate action at the state and city level and President Obama has proposed $10-a-barrel-tax on oil, they say.

EPA Finds Benefits Outweigh Cost of Mercury Rule

Benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) rule outweigh cost, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in findings released in defense of its issuance of the first-ever federal regulations requiring power plants to cut mercury emissions and other toxics.

The Supreme Court found, last year, that the EPA should have considered compliance costs when determining whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury emissions from the power sector. In a June ruling, it did not strike down the regulation; rather, it required the EPA to take costs into consideration.

In its final 167-page report on the matter, now awaiting publication in the Federal Register, the EPA details how it considered cost in evaluating whether to regulate coal-and oil-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act (subscription).

“Based on this analysis, EPA has determined that the cost of complying with MATS, whether assessed as a percentage of total capital expenditures, percentage of power sector sales, or predicted impact on the retail price of electricity, is reasonable and that the electric power industry can comply with MATS and maintain its ability to provide reliable electric power to consumers at a reasonable cost,” the EPA wrote.

The annual cost of complying with MATS, the EPA found, amounts to between 2.7 and 3.5 percent of electricity sales, and the capital costs between 3 and 5.9 percent of annual power sector capital expenditures over 10 years.

Methane Emissions Greater Than Thought

In its newly released annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory, the EPA raised its estimate of total U.S. methane emissions in 2013 by 13 percent—an increase of more than 3.4 million metric tons and a long-term global warming impact of a year’s worth of emissions from some 20 million cars, Science News reported. The agency’s first estimate of methane emissions for 2014 is even higher, although only slightly so—29.233 million metric tons compared with 28.859 million metric tons.

Although there was a roughly 1 percent increase in total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions between 2013 and 2014, the inventory shows 2014 levels were 8.6 percent lower than 2005 levels, taking into account carbon sinks (subscription).

According to the EPA, the biggest methane emitter is the oil and natural gas industry—not animals like cattle and other livestock, as had been suggested by last year’s inventory. The data in this latest inventory are based on new techniques for estimating methane leaking from valves, compressors, vents, and other oil and gas equipment.

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.

U.S., Canada Announce Methane Reduction Plan

On March 17, 2016, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a move that could help the United States and Canada meet pledges they made at last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan to cut oil and gas industry methane emissions 40–45 percent, compared to 2012 levels, by 2025. In Canada, the environment ministry will work with provinces and other parties to implement national regulations by 2017; in the United States, the plan calls for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop regulations “immediately” (subscription). Although the EPA issued a methane rule for new oil and gas sources last year, some experts and Obama administration officials believe that a regulation for existing sources is needed to meet the new reduction pledge.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the EPA will begin tackling the issue by requiring oil and gas companies to report certain data about methane output in April.

“I’m confident the end result of this effort will be a common-sense, reasonable standard to reduce methane emissions that are contributing to climate change,” she said.

New data suggests that annual releases of methane in the United States total nine million tons—much higher than previously thought.

The commitments to reduce emissions of methane by the United States and Canada were part of a joint statement in which Obama and Trudeau announced a range of environmental initiatives to combat climate change, expand renewable energy, and protect the Arctic region and in which they promised that their two countries would “play a leadership role internationally in the low carbon global economy over the coming decades.” According to the statement, Obama and Trudeau consider the agreement reached in Paris a “turning point” in global efforts to combat climate change, and they will cooperate in implementing it, committing to signing it “as soon as feasible.”

Among the announced actions, it was the plan to reduce methane—a chemical that is many more times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—that drew the most praise and criticism, reported the Los Angeles Times. Some representatives of the oil and gas industry said they were already taking steps to reduce methane leaks, and some environmental groups said a better solution would be to reduce fossil fuels and hydraulic fracturing, which is linked to those leaks. Other environmental groups said methane reduction delivers a nearer-term climate payoff than cutting carbon dioxide from power plants.

Sea Level Rise Big, Underestimated

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that future sea-level increases due to climate change could displace anywhere from 4.3 to 13.1 million people in coastal communities in the U.S. by the end of the century.

“Projections are up to three times larger than current estimates, which significantly underestimate the effect of sea-level rise in the United States,” said study co-author Mathew Hauer of the University of Georgia. Why? Earlier studies don’t account for population growth.

A second study in the journal Earth System Dynamics explores the feasibility of delaying the problem of rising seas by pumping vast quantities of ocean water onto the continent of Antarctica to thicken the ice sheet by freezing the water.

“This is not a proposition,” said Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s a discussion. It’s supposed to initiate the discussion on how big the sea level problem really is.”

The researchers find that it would take more than 7 percent of the global energy supply just to power the pumps needed to get the water at least 435 miles inland to the Antarctic ice sheet so it could freeze—preventing the heavy, newly formed ice sheets from sliding into the ocean. That’s just one of the many hurdles to engineering, much less financing such a project, according to the Earth System Dynamics study.

“When we stop the pumping one day, additional discharge from Antarctica will increase the rate of sea-level rise even beyond the warming-induced rate,” Levermann said. “The magnitude of sea-level rise is so enormous, it turns out it is unlikely that any engineering approach imaginable can mitigate it.”

Study Finds Connection to Climate Change for Some Extreme Weather Events

A newly released report by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine makes it easier to connect climate change with some extreme weather events. Published in the National Academies Press, the report indicates that we can now say more about the extent to which weather events have been intensified or weakened as a result of climate change.

“In the past, a typical climate scientist’s response to questions about climate change’s role in any given weather event was ‘we cannot attribute any single event to climate change,’” the report said. “The science has advanced to the point that this is no longer true as an unqualified blanket statement. In many cases, it is now often possible to make and defend quantitative statements about the extent to which human-induced climate change (or another casual factor, such as a specific mode of natural variability) has influenced either the magnitude or the probability of occurrence of specific types of events or event classes.”

Technology and the length of human climatic records have made “attribution science” possible, but it is still new. The Washington Post reports that temperature-related events allow for the strongest attribution statement since the “chain of causality from global warming to the event is shortest and simplest.”

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an updated draft of its Greenhouse Gas Inventory, finding that total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 were 6.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent—1 percent higher than in 2013, but 8 percent lower than the 2007 peak. The most revelatory revision: methane emissions figures for the oil and gas sector were 27 times higher than previous estimates. Over 20 years, that difference, says the Environmental Defense Fund, represents a climate impact equivalent to 200 coal-fired power plants.

News of the upward revision came amid a study from the University of California at Irvine (UCI) published in the journal Science that finds more than 100,000 tons of methane entered the atmosphere during a four-month natural gas leak in Southern California’s Aliso Canyon. Before it was plugged in February, the leak doubled methane emissions in the Los Angeles region. It is the largest methane leak in U.S. history, and it is likely to keep California from meeting its 2016 greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas with a long-term global warming potential thought to be many times that of carbon dioxide, are currently unregulated.

At the annual IHS CERAWEEK conference last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy alluded to her agency’s proposal, last year, of methane leak detection and repair requirements for new oil wells. Methane emissions related to the oil and natural gas industry are “much larger than we ever anticipated,” she said. “The data confirm that we can and must do more on methane. By tackling methane emissions, we can unlock an amazing opportunity to better protect our environment for the future.”

Study Revises Carbon Budget Downward

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change warns that the global carbon budget has been over-estimated and should be cut by at least half. In the abstract of their research, the authors state that for a greater than 66 percent chance of limiting warming below the internationally agreed temperature limit of 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels, “the most appropriate carbon budget estimate is 590–1,240 GtCO2 from 2015 onwards.” They conclude that global CO2 emissions must be cut quickly to keep within a 2°C-compatible budget.

“At current rates, the carbon budget would thus be exhausted in about 15 to 30 years,” said lead author Joeri Rogelj, a research scholar at the Energy Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. “These numbers definitely indicate that we should not just sit and wait, because then the window for staying within the budget would become vanishingly small within decades.”

The study analyzes differences among widely varying estimates for a carbon budget consistent with the 2°C target, finding that a major reason for the range is due to assumptions and methodologies in previous studies. Its own estimate differs from many previous estimates in part because it accounts for methane and other greenhouse gases and not only for carbon dioxide.

Despite COP21 Deal, No Increase Expected for European Union Emissions Targets

The Paris Climate Agreement, signed at the United Nations Climate Conference last year, calls for a review of countries’ climate reduction goals in 2018, but a new document suggests the European Union (EU) may not be following that timeline (subscription).

As reported by Reuters, text prepared ahead of a Friday meeting of EU environment ministers on the Paris climate deal says the existing target—cutting emissions by at least 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030—“is based on global projections that are in line with the medium-term ambition of the Paris Agreement.”

“We have the deal,” said EU Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete. “Now we need to make it real. For the EU, this means completing the 2030 climate and energy legislation without delay, signing and ratifying the agreement as soon as possible, and continuing our leadership in the global transition to a low-carbon future.”

This calculation is based on keeping emissions levels to 2 degrees Celsius—but the agreement signed in Paris aspires to hold nations to a global temperature increase of well below this level and to pursuit of an increase limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In Euractiv, former chief negotiator for the Netherlands and European Union, Bert Mertz, examines whether a sub-2 degrees Celsius goal is feasible and what might be needed for the EU to meet a more aggressive 1.5 degree Celsius goal. He finds that although the current goal is derived from a long-term target of 80 percent emissions reduction compared with 1990 levels, the EU would need to strengthen that target to 95 percent emissions reductions.

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