The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hog waste is providing farmers and power companies with a new source of renewable natural gas, or what’s known as swine biogas. In North Carolina, the electric utility Duke Energy is capturing methane gas from the hog waste at area farms and piping it to a central location where the gas is cleaned and converted to pipeline-quality natural gas to meet a state-required mandate that 0.2 percent of energy come from hog waste by 2023.

The project kicked off late last month. Known as—OptimaKV—it uses a directed biogas approach to create enough renewable natural gas to power the equivalent of 1,000 homes a year.

“Optima KV is just the first of more projects where directed biogas will be used at Duke Energy power plants to create efficient renewable energy,” said David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. “Getting projects to a meaningful scale is important as we advance this innovative technology.”

The Optima KV project follows a model designed in a 2013 study by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions that provided individual and centralized approaches for meeting North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard mandate for swine gas. The study, which used the similarly named Optima model, found the directed biogas approach could lower the cost of swine biogas to as little as 5 cents a kilowatt hour, or roughly the same price as solar power.

The potential for biogas as a renewable power source is also being explored by Duke University. The campus, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2024, held a forum Tuesday night to explore the alternative energy source.

“What’s so attractive is this dual dividend idea,” said Tanja Vujic, Duke University’s director of biogas strategy, of the university’s plan to displace conventional natural gas—now the primary fuel source for the university’s current steam plants—with methane from hog farms. “You [don’t] just destroy the methane, but [also] make something valuable in its destruction.”

Duke University led a pilot project in 2010 to test the viability of this kind of biogas at Loyd Ray Farms in Yadkinville, NC, and it is now in discussions with potential suppliers to expand biogas production and delivery to the campus.

Southern Company Announces Decarbonization Strategy

At the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Future of Energy Summit, Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning announced plans for the company to continue to transition away from coal-fired power plants to “low-to-no-carbon” electricity sources by 2050.

“We are transitioning the fleet,” Fanning said. “The dominant solutions will be nuclear … there will be renewables.”

Although few other details about the company’s decarbonization strategy were shared, Fanning told EnergyWire that more particulars about the transition of its fleet will be announced at the company’s next annual meeting.

Concentrated in four Southeastern states, Southern Company is responsible for nearly a quarter of the carbon pollution from southeastern utilities. The announcement makes Southern Company the first large utility in the region to publicly endorse a no-carbon pollution goal.

PJM to FERC: Rule on Proposals for Accommodating State Subsidies in Capacity Market

The PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Midwest region, on Monday asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to determine how the wholesale electric capacity market should handle state subsidies for power generators, whether aging nuclear and coal-fired plants or renewables sources such as wind and solar, and to issue an order by June 29.

“Left unaddressed the subsidies will crowd out efficient, competitive resources and shift to consumers the investment and operational risks of generation,” said PJM CEO Andrew Ott. “We seek the appropriate balance that respects state policy while avoiding policy impacts of a state’s subsidies on the market as a whole and on other states.”

The grid operator and some power producers have argued that subsidized generators are entering into the annual PJM capacity market, which allows utilities and other electricity suppliers to purchase power three years in advance, at prices below their actual generation costs, lowering overall market prices and potentially forcing other competitors to shutter their operations.

In a filing to FERC, the PJM asked the agency to decide between two proposals to deal with the issue and to identify which aspects of the proposals need to be revised, rather than send the issue to “trial-type proceedings.” One proposal—capacity repricing—would create a two-stage capacity auction to accommodate state subsidies without distorting market prices. All generators would participate in the first stage, and payments to subsidized plants that win in that round would be reduced in the second stage. The second proposal, which is preferred by some PJM member companies, involves removing the effect of subsidies from offers into the capacity market by effectively extending the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR). Subsidized bids would be changed to reflect unsubsidized costs, as a result of which some subsidized plants might lose their capacity payment.

One clue about how FERC may view the proposals is offered by its March 2018 decision on Independent System Operator-New England capacity market reform. In that decision, FERC approved a two-part capacity market but designated the MOPR as the “standard solution” for dealing with subsidized resources in the absence of other policies.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress gave a boost to carbon capture—a method for diverting emissions from crude production and coal- and gas-fired power plants—through the so-called 45Q tax credit. For every qualifying project, the boosted 45Q doubles a pre-existing tax credit to $50 per ton of carbon dioxide buried in underground storage and to $35 per ton that is used in a consumer product or to stimulate oil recovery.

“The act also expands the ‘EOR’ [enhanced oil recovery] credit to carbon oxides used for other industrial purposes, changes the definition of the entities to whom the credit applies, and sets capture thresholds for small facilities, electric generating facilities, and direct air capture facilities,” write Frederick R. Eames and David S. Lowman Jr. in Lexology.

Many see the potential for this credit to spur a renewed look at projects with carbon capture and storage and re-enliven policies around it.

“Now, with [the tax credit], the economics are looking very attractive,” said Roger Ballentine, a consultant and board member of 8 Rivers Capital, which is financing NET Power, a carbon capture project near Houston. “People are asking, should I do this. Before, those conversations weren’t even happening. Any major project like this will be a challenge. But the business case gets that much better with [the tax credit]. Once there is a business case, that’s why they happen.”

The nudge from the tax credit could help the technology to be more profitable.

“The reality of any technology development, particularly in the energy space, is it’s very difficult to move technologies into the marketplace without some sort of push,” said Walker Dimmig, spokesperson for NET Power. “The energy marketplace is incredibly competitive.”

Court Orders Enforcement of Methane Leak Rule

Last week, U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to delay an Obama-era Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule that sought to reduce venting, flaring and leakage of methane gas on public and tribal lands. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that BLM did not justify its decision to delay core provisions of its 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule by one year.

“The BLM’s reasoning behind the Suspension Rule is untethered to evidence contradicting the reasons for implementing the Waste Prevention Rule, and so plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits,” Orrick wrote. “They have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts.”

In the lawsuit brought by environmental groups and two states—California and New Mexico—Orrick also denied a request to move the case to Wyoming where a similar case is pending.

The ruling was only on the BLM’s proposed one-year delay. It does not directly affect the BLM’s proposed repeal of several methane rule provisions announced earlier this month. That proposal removes at least seven elements introduced under Obama’s rule, including creation of waste minimization plans by companies and emissions reduction standards for well completion.

In announcing the changes to that portion of the rule, the BLM said that many of the former requirements were duplicative of state laws or had a higher cost or lower benefit than previously estimated. Once the BLM proposed repeal is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period will begin.

Reports Indicate Growth in Renewables in Cities

Worldwide, 101 cities are getting at least 70 percent of their total electricity supply from renewable energy—more than double the number since the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement according to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which tracks climate-related commitments by corporations and governments.

The London-based Carbon Disclosure Project attributes the increase to the growing number of cities reporting to it (currently 570) and to a global shift to renewable energy. It reports that cities are investing $2.3 billion in 150 clean energy development projects and $52 billion in low-carbon urban infrastructure projects such as energy efficiency upgrades, electric transport networks and smart city programs.

“Cities are responsible for 70 percent of energy-related CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions and there is immense potential for them to lead on building a sustainable economy,” said Kyra Appleby, director of cities at the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Notably, more than 40 of the cities identified in the report are powered entirely by renewables, including Burlington, Vermont, which gets its electricity from wind, solar, hydro and biomass. Although only a few of the 100-plus U.S. cities that report their energy mix to the project have achieved 70 percent or greater renewables generation, another 58 U.S. cities, including Atlanta and San Diego, are planning to hit the 100 percent renewables target within 20 years.

Meanwhile, two new studies shed light on renewables potential and actual deployment in the United States.

In one, scientists at the University of California at Irvine, the California Institute of Technology, and the Carnegie Institution for Science revealed that the country could reliably meet about 80 percent of its electricity demand with solar and wind power generation “by building either a continental-scale transmission network or facilities that could store 12 hours’ worth of the nation’s electricity demand.” Both options would entail huge—but not inconceivable—investments, they said.

A study by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy revealed that solar deployment is growing in some southern states, including North Carolina, where the solar market, one of the nation’s largest, is driven by favorable implementation of federal laws requiring renewable energy procurement, a state tax credit, and a renewable energy mandate. South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia are also emerging as significant state markets.

Globally, falling costs are playing a role in renewables uptake. According to data released by the World Economic Forum, unsubsidized renewables were the cheapest source of electricity in 30 countries in 2017, and they are expected to be consistently more cost effective than fossil fuels globally by 2020.

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

President Donald Trump’s $4.4 trillion 2019 budget proposal, released Monday, echoed themes from the previous year’s budget priorities: steep cuts to domestic programs with large increases for defense. It outlines leaner budgets across federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Trump’s proposed budget, which was assembled before the Congress passed a two-year spending bill last week, calls for the EPA to operate with $5.4 billion ($6.15 billion after adjustments) beginning Oct. 1. That budget would be the EPA’s lowest since the early 1990s and about 25 percent below the 2017 mark of $8.1 billion.

The DOE would receive $30.6 billion, which is nearly 2 percent below its 2017 budget.

The proposal would also eliminate virtually all climate change-related programs at the EPA. In outlining the budget, the Trump administration said the EPA is refocusing on “core activities” and eliminating “lower priority programs,” including a program to promote partnerships with the private sector to tackle climate change.

The Trump administration said it wants to eliminate programs that are duplicative of those of other agencies or that it thinks state and local governments should assume—a proposal that appears to dovetail with the EPA’s strategic plan, also released Monday, that outlines a retrenchment around core issues like clean air, clean water, remediation of contaminated sites, and chemical safety. In place of program categories such as “clean air and global climate change,” Trump’s proposed budget allocates $112 million for a new line item called “core mission” and $357 million for “rule of law and process.”

Like climate-related programs at the EPA, DOE’s renewable energy programs are targeted for reductions in the proposal. According to numbers released by DOE, energy and related programs would receive $2.5 billion under the proposed 2019 budget, a drop of $1.9 billion from the 2017 budget. The Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would take a 65 percent cut. By contrast, the Office of Fossil Energy would get a 20 percent funding increase.

Unlike Trump’s budget proposal, the bipartisan two-year budget deal passed last week appears to include government funding for climate-related programs. It gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers money to study weather patterns and to prepare for the consequences of disasters, and it preserves tax incentives for renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and energy efficiency programs.

Under the bipartisan deal, nondefense discretionary spending gets a $63 billion boost in fiscal year 2018 and another $68 billion in fiscal year 2019. Almost all research agencies, including the EPA, fall under this nondefense category. It’s still unclear how any funds will be divided among individual agencies and programs. Details of who gets what in the 2018 budget will come as Congress works on an omnibus appropriations bill, expected in late March.

Methane Emissions Regulation Revised

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will replace most of the requirements of a 2016 Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands. The Monday proposal came after a previous announcement that the BLM would delay implementing the Obama-era rule until January 2019.

The rule forced energy companies to capture methane that’s vented to the atmosphere or burned off (“flared”) at drilling sites because it pollutes the environment. Many companies consider the rule unnecessary and overly intrusive, but many environmental groups warn that methane emissions from oil and gas operations are the second largest industrial contributor to climate change in the United States.

The new BLM proposal removes at least seven elements introduced under Obama’s rule, including creation of waste minimization plans by companies and standards for well completion. In announcing the changes to the rule, the BLM said that many of the former requirements were duplicative of state laws or had a higher cost or lower benefit than previously estimated.

The BLM is expected to publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register, opening it up for 60 days of public comment before issuing a final rule could be issued.

But even as the Trump administration is retreating from regulating methane leaks, new research published in the journal Climate Policy suggests it is still possible to make progress on reducing methane emissions by using a proposed North American Methane Reduction framework to direct research and to enhance monitoring and evaluate mitigation efforts.

This study, penned by my Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions colleague Kate Konschnik, suggests that state and provincial governments, industry, and nongovernmental organizations can use the framework to coordinate regulations, voluntary industry actions, and scientific developments in methane estimation and mitigation, thereby bridging the divide between science and policy and driving new research that in turn can support better policies when governments are ready to act.

California Adopts Emissions Standards for Trucks

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously to adopt emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks starting with the 2020 model year, departing from federal rules in two sectors. The state not only approved its own version of federal regulations covering truck trailers, but it is also making plans to conduct its own enforcement.

The state has special authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to make its own pollution and greenhouse gas rules for “mobile sources” such as cars and trucks. Some are concerned that the Trump administration may attempt to unravel the state’s authority to set pollution standards that are higher than federal rules.

Comments made by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee leave open that possibility.

“Federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the country,” Pruitt said, noting that “we recognize California’s special status in the statute and we are working with them to find consensus around these issues.”

CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols pointed to a 2013 waiver for California to implement its own, tougher tailpipe standards.

“The EPA would have to take unprecedented legal action to try to revoke that waiver,” she said. “Our best legal judgment is that that can’t be done.”

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

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The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed that FERC change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants compete in wholesale power markets. The change would mandate that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for electricity. The plan may represent the Trump administration’s most consequential attempt to reshape the electricity market to date.

Perry proposed the rule change in the name of electric grid resilience, which he said is threatened by recent coal and nuclear plant closures. With the letter, he enclosed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking directing FERC to either take final action to implement the change within 60 days of the notice’s publication in the Federal Register or to issue the proposed rule as an interim final rule. The notice includes legal justification for FERC’s authority to issue the proposed rule without an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement.

The proposed rule, which fits with the Trump administration’s stated intention to support fossil fuels, is not the first attempt to alter wholesale electricity markets in light of changes in the electricity sector. The PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization that operates the grid and electricity market in 13 eastern U.S. states, is exploring ways to make wholesale electricity markets and evolving state policies work better together. A range of perspectives on PJM’s proposed responses to state subsidies for various generation sources were reflected last week at an event, co-hosted by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute, on harmonization of state energy policies and PJM’s markets.

Energy analysts and energy regulators, including former FERC commissioners, have criticized Perry’s proposal, saying it could increase customer costs and power sector pollution while actually doing little to enhance system resilience.

Perry’s proposal presents no evidence of immediate dangers to the nation’s grid from retirements of marginal coal and nuclear plants, according to a broad group of energy companies that made a joint filing urging FERC to reject Perry’s push for fast action. In an updated motion filed Tuesday, the 11 groups asked for an extension of FERC’s comment deadline.

According to EnergyWire, the proposal appears to contradict a report from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), which it cites. The report makes no claim of a grid in crisis and notes that essential reliability services—typically furnished by retiring coal and nuclear plants—are within the capacity of gas, renewable power and electricity storage to provide.

Nor does the proposal completely align with a DOE-ordered study, cited in the 11 energy associations’ joint filing, on the reliability of the nation’s electric grid that was released in August. That study conceded that the rapid increase of renewables has not undermined the power network, though it, too, called for changing electricity pricing rules, along with loosening of pollution regulations, to protect the coal industry.

Proposal Suggests Ending Clean Power Plan, While Court Orders Methane Rules Move Forward

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will propose a repeal of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants, reports Reuters.

An EPA document distributed to members of the agency’s Regulatory Steering Committee indicated that the EPA “is issuing a proposal to repeal the rule.” It went on to say it intends to issue what it calls an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input as it considers “developing a rule similarly intended to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel electric utility generating units.”

But Gina McCarthy, who served as EPA administrator under former President Barack Obama starting in July 2013, says that pronouncements don’t equal the law and that moves to undo Obama’s climate legacy will not withstand legal challenges.

“You really have to work hard to show the prior administration made a mistake when it made the rules,” said McCarthy. “Did we get the science wrong? The law wrong? The facts different? I think you’re going to see we did a good job, so it’s going to be a long time in discussions in the courts, and I think in the end things will continue to move forward.”

A Trump administration review of the Clean Power Plan is expected to be finalized this fall, according to an EPA court filing.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday ordered that the Trump administration acted unlawfully when it delayed a separate emissions rule designed to reduce leaking, venting and flaring of methane emissions from oil and gas drilling activity. This week the Trump administration announced another proposal to stall standards until 2019, but EnergyWire reports that the district court’s order means the rule will now take effect.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Flat for Third Consecutive Year

Earth-warming carbon dioxide emissions remained static in 2016, according to data from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA). Of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, only India experienced an increase (4.7 percent). China and the United States, the top two emitters, experienced decreases (0.3 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively), resulting primarily from reduced coal use.

2016 marks the third year in a row that carbon dioxide emissions have not increased. That’s an unprecedented trend at a time when the global economy is growing, according to NEAA. Yet, their amount—upward of 35 billion tons last year—is still enough to raise global temperatures to dangerous levels. In some big countries, these emissions are still increasing, suggesting that they are not guaranteed to remain flat or to decrease in the future.

Importantly, the NEAA report also found that greenhouse gas emissions other than carbon dioxide rose by approximately 1 percent. Moreover, the report did not account for carbon dioxide emissions from land use changes, which are more difficult to estimate and vary significantly from year to year.

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 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.