Coastal States Oppose Offshore Drilling Proposal

On February 8, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Attorneys general of a dozen coastal states—North Carolina, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia—are expressing opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to expand development of oil and gas in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, calling it “outrageous” and “reckless.” In a letter, they called on U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to cancel the proposal. They also expressed ire at the deal Zinke struck with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which exempted his state from the drilling plan, pointing to the lack of analysis or clear process underlying the decision.

Two governors from opposing parties echoed that sentiment in a separate publication.

“We’ve seen this administration seemingly lift the concerns of one governor and one state above others,” wrote Maryland Gov. Lawrence Joseph Hogan Jr. and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in an op-ed. “In removing Florida from the five-year plan, Zinke and the Trump administration have admitted that offshore drilling poses great risks to coastal economies.”

On Sunday Zinke reiterated why he exempted Florida—due to its unique currents and geology as well as the unanimous opposition of Florida’s legislature to the proposal.

“In the case of Florida, the governor asked first for an immediate meeting and every member on both sides of the aisle contacted my office, wrote letters on it. So Florida is unique,” Zinke said. “Not every state has all the members against it and the geology is different, the currents are different and so looking at it, we’re going to take the process, go through it, meet with every governor personally.”

In a meeting with Zinke the day before, Cooper said the Interior secretary was receptive to his requests for an extended proposal comment period and for three additional public hearings near North Carolina’s coast.

“He said that he was listening, and he heard each and every one of us,” Cooper said. “I think generally he was pretty positive about what we said. He didn’t make any promises to us.”

Cooper said he told Zinke that drilling could cause unrecoverable damage to the state’s $3 billion tourism and fishing industries.

“We told him there is no 100% safe method to drill for oil and gas off the coast, particularly in our area off of North Carolina that sees nor’easters, that sees hurricanes,” Cooper said. “It would be catastrophic if there were to be an oil spill.”

If North Carolina does not get an exemption like Florida, Cooper said he has no problem taking the federal government to court.

“Thousands of North Carolinians and 30 coastal communities have voiced their opposition to drilling off North Carolina’s shores,” said Josh Stein, North Carolina’s attorney general, in a statement. “I will do everything I can, including taking legal action, if necessary, to fight on behalf of our people, economy, and natural resources.”

Also seeking an exemption from the proposal—albeit a partial one—is Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“There are certain areas that we feel are not opportune for leasing and for development,” said Murkowski, who chairs the Senate committee that oversees the Interior. “Let’s focus on where the opportunity is good and there is interest and defined resource with limited obstacles.”

As Another Plant Closes, Spotlight Is on Economics of Nuclear

New Jersey’s Oyster Creek nuclear power plant will shut down in October 2018, more than a year earlier than planned, Exelon Corp. announced last week.

Nuclear power is the nation’s largest source of carbon-free electricity, generating about 20 percent of U.S. electric power and 60 percent of our zero-carbon electricity. The challenge to maintain a zero-carbon nuclear fleet to meet climate goals—by keeping existing plants like Oyster Creek—often is economics. This challenge has been particularly apparent in competitive markets, where nuclear plants are not guaranteed cost recovery through ratepayers.

When Exelon CEO and President Chris Crane announced in 2010 that the plant would retire in December 2019, he said the plant faced “a unique set of economic conditions and changing environmental regulations that make ending operations in 2019 the best option for the company, employees and shareholders.” He said the plant’s decreasing value was due to the cumulative effect of negative economic factors, such as low market prices and demand, as well as the plant’s need for continuing large capital expenditures.

Meanwhile, new construction has been plagued with cost overruns. In December 2017, the Georgia Public Service Commission voted unanimously to allow construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Plant Vogtle site to proceed. Plagued by delays and escalating costs, the Vogtle reactors represented the only large-scale nuclear construction underway in the United States since abandonment of two reactors last summer by South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper. The Georgia commission reaffirmed its decision this week, despite a challenge by consumer group Georgia Watch over concern about the ultimate cost to ratepayers.

EIA Projects United States Will Become a Net Energy Exporter in 2022

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Tuesday released its annual long-term energy outlook, which projects U.S. production of natural gas will increase through 2050. Production of crude oil and petroleum products, meanwhile, will decrease.

It projects that the United States will become a net energy exporter by 2022, four years sooner than the date projected in last year’s report, reversing “a near 70-year trend when the U.S. became a net energy importer in 1953,” said EIA Administrator Linda Capuano.

“The United States energy system continues to undergo an incredible transformation,” she added. “This is most obvious when one considers that the [report] shows the United States becoming a net exporter of energy during the projection period in the Reference case and in most of the sensitivity cases as well—a very different set of expectations than we imagined even five or ten years ago.”

Renewable generation more than doubles between 2017 and 2050, in EIA projections, with an average annual growth rate of 2.8 percent. EIA projections show 80 gigawatts of new wind and solar photovoltaic capacity being added between 2018 and 2021, spurred by declining capital costs and the availability of tax credits.

Energy consumption grows about 0.4 percent per year on average in the Reference case from 2017 to 2050, which is less than the rate of expected population growth (0.6 percent per year), according to the report.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that more than a quarter of Earth’s land will become significantly drier even if the world manages to limit warming to the Paris Agreement goal of less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Limiting the temperature rise to the agreement’s more ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce the amount of land affected.

“Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20–30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2 degrees C [Celsius],” said Manoj Joshi, study co-author from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. “But two-thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees C.”

According to the study, the regions that would most benefit from keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius are parts of South East Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, Central America and Southern Australia.

The study authors used projections from 27 global climate models to identify the areas of the world where aridity will substantially change when compared to current year-to-year variations. With a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, they found that between 24 percent and 32 percent of the Earth’s total land surface will become drier. At an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, only between eight percent and 10 percent of that surface becomes drier.

Aridification could dramatically increase the threat of widespread drought and wildfires. It is also a threat to agriculture, water quality and biodiversity, noted Chang-Eui Park, the study’s lead author from China’s Southern University for Sustainability and Technology.

Park likened the emergence of aridification to “a shift to continuous moderate drought conditions, on top of which future year-to-year variability can cause more severe drought. For instance, in such a scenario 15 percent of semi-arid regions would actually experience conditions similar to ‘arid’ climates today.”

Trump Administration Repeals Proposed Rules for Hydraulic Fracturing on Government Land

One day after a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reconsider it’s decision to overrule a lower court’s rejection of a proposed Obama-era rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rescinded the rule. Under the proposed rule, companies would have had to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, whereby pressurized water is pumped underground to break open hydrocarbon deposits to increase well productivity.

The rule had been scheduled to go into effect in 2015, but it was never implemented due to court challenges by energy industry groups and several oil- and natural gas-producing states, which argued the rule was over-reaching and duplicative of state requirements, as well as by environmentalists, who pointed to a need to regulate potential risks to groundwater.

“This final rule is needed to prevent the unnecessarily burdensome and unjustified administrative requirements and compliance costs of the 2015 rule from encumbering oil and gas development on Federal and Indian lands,” BLM wrote in the 26-page final rule.

The move took effect immediately on December 29, skipping the 30-day waiting period often incorporated into rollbacks.

Vogtle Nuclear Project Gets Green Light

Georgia’s Public Service Commission has voted unanimously to allow construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle to continue. Plagued by delays and escalating costs, the Vogtle reactors represent the only large-scale nuclear construction underway in the United States since abandonment of two reactors this summer by South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper. This week, Dominion Power bought SCANA and assumed these failed South Carolina nuclear project costs.

“The decision to complete Vogtle 3 & 4 is important for Georgia’s energy future and the United States,” said Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, in a statement. “The Georgia Public Service Commission has shown leadership in making this complex and difficult decision and recognized that the Vogtle expansion is key to ensuring that our state has affordable and reliable energy today that will support economic growth now and for generations to come.”

Co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, the reactors are presently scheduled to come online in 2021 (unit 3) and 2022 (unit 4).

The commission attached conditions to its approval of the Vogtle completion, including a lower return on equity for Georgia Power; more money returned to ratepayers; and the possibility of re-examining the project if Congress doesn’t extend a production tax credit for nuclear power past a 2021 expiration date.

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

Absent efforts well beyond those described in the Paris Agreement—to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius—climate change could pose a deadly threat to most humans by century’s end. This finding was suggested by an international group of climate science and policy experts in a pair of recently published studies.

To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) said the world would have to take aggressive measures to curtail the use of fossil fuels and emissions of short-lived climate pollutants such as methane. In addition, we would also have to extract carbon dioxide from the air and sequester it before it can be emitted.

According to the findings, which were originally published by the University of California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, there is a 5 percent chance of catastrophic change within roughly three decades, and a smaller chance that it would extinguish human life. It proposed two new classifications for climate change: “catastrophic,” meaning that adaptation would be difficult for most people, and “unknown,” or “existential,” meaning that adaptation would be impossible.

“There is a low probability that the change will be catastrophic,” said the study’s lead author, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps. “But you would not get on an airplane if you thought there was a 5 percent chance that it was going to crash.”

The researchers defined their proposed risk categories on the basis of guidelines established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and previous independent studies. Even a global temperature increase limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Farenheit)—the Paris Agreement’s aspirational goal—is categorized as “dangerous.” An increase greater than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Farenheit) could be “catastrophic,” and an increase greater than 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Farenheit) could lead to “unknown” but potentially existential threats. For humans, catastrophic impacts include widespread famine and the exposure of more than 7 billion people to heat-related mortalities.

Policy and science experts, including Ramanathan, relied on the PNAS findings to compile a report on potential warming containment efforts. That report pointed to the need for greater weight on subnational government action and a sharp uptake in mature clean energy technologies—such as wind, solar, biogas, and geothermal—coupled with aggressive electrification of transportation and building energy use.

A separate analysis published in the journal Nature Geoscience says the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 Celsius aspirational goal may be more feasible than many think. It makes a fresh estimate of the necessary carbon budget, including updating measurements of the emissions and warming that have already occurred, and shows that the global carbon emissions budget that meets that goal is equivalent to 20 years of current global annual emissions. But other researchers have raised questions about the analysis—which, if correct, would have very large implications for climate policymaking. Aside from concerns about the new study’s methods and assumptions, broader questions about the definition of the carbon budget and how it should be calculated are now swirling.

Senators, Local Level Decision Makers Focus on Climate Action

After some speculation following comments by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the White House, on Monday, reaffirmed its commitment to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

“There has been no change in the United States’ position on the Paris agreement,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told CNN. “As the President has made abundantly clear, the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”

Despite the White House’s stance on the global climate accord, others are taking steps to acknowledge and, in some cases, take specific action on the issue. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday told guests attending a climate change conference convened at Yale University by former Secretary of State John Kerry that he supports a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’m a Republican. I believe that the greenhouse effect is real, that CO2 emissions generated by man is creating our greenhouse gas effect that traps heat, and the planet is warming,” said Graham. “A price on carbon—that’s the way to go in my view.”

Sen. Graham’s reinvocation of these concepts means that there may be some ability to have conversations again about the bipartisan solution to climate change (subscription).

State and local leaders associated with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group—a network of megacities dedicated to addressing climate change—remain focused on faster climate action. As part of a Climate Week convening, several mayors discussed how that action falls on them now that the United States is pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

“As mayors, our responsibilities also became even clearer. It’s not enough to reach our ‘80 by 50’ goal,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, referencing New York City’s earlier commitment to cut greenhouse gases by 80 percent by midcentury, “or to go along with the fantastic goal of keeping warming to two degrees Celsius. If the U.S. government is backing away, we had to step forward.”

On Wednesday, 91 U.S. cities and Denmark unveiled a climate plan that aims to enhance cooperation among companies, governments, regions and cities in an effort to promote green growth. The initiative is dubbed Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030. Also, North Carolina joined 14 other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance—a bipartisan group of states committed to reducing their share of greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals that countries agreed upon as part of the Paris Agreement.

“In the absence of leadership from Washington, North Carolina is proud to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, and we remain committed to reducing pollution and protecting our environment,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. “So much of North Carolina’s economy relies on protecting our treasured natural resources, and I’m committed to maintaining the quality of their air we breathe for generations to come.”

Report: Energy Outlook to 2040

World energy consumption will increase 28 percent by 2040, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects in its latest International Energy Outlook 2017. Areas in China and Asia will consume the most energy—representing as much as 60 percent of increased demand.

The report indicates that fossil fuels will continue to dominate the world energy mix, making up 77 percent of energy use in 2040, while renewables, despite growing faster than any other fuel source during the coming years, will represent just 17 percent of world energy consumption by 2040. Demand for coal will remain relatively flat with consumption projected to decline from 27 to 25 percent between 2015 and 2040.

Global natural gas consumption is seen increasing by 1.4 percent per year over the forecast period.

“Abundant natural gas resources and rising production—including supplies of tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane—contribute to the strong competitive position of natural gas,” the report indicates.

Nuclear power is expected to grow the fastest behind renewables, with consumption increasing about 1.5 percent per 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 Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

New research in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society finds that climate change influenced the majority of 16 extreme weather events in 2013. Specifically, it found evidence that climate change linked to human causes—particularly burning of fossil fuels—increased the odds of nine extreme events: amplifying temperature in China, Japan, Korea, Australia and Europe; intense rain in parts of the United States and India and severe droughts in New Zealand and California.

“It is not ever a single factor that is responsible for the extremes that we see; in many cases, there are multiple factors,” said Tom Karl, director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Climatic Data Center, of the third NOAA-led annual report to make connections between human-caused climate change and individual extreme weather events.

Twenty groups of scientists conducted independent peer-reviewed studies on the same 16 extreme events occurring on four continents to arrive at their conclusions.

“There is great scientific value in having multiple studies analyze the same extreme event to determine the underlying factors that may have influenced it,” said Stephanie C. Herring of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center and lead report editor. “Results from this report not only add to our body of knowledge about what drives extreme events, but what the odds are of these events happening again—and to what severity.”

Although the report concludes that the long durations of heat waves “are becoming increasingly likely” due to human-caused climate change, the effects of such change on other types of extremes—California’s drought and extreme rain in Colorado—are less clear.

“Temperature is much more continuous as opposed to precipitation, which is an on/off event,” said Karl. “If you have an on/off event, it makes the tools we have a little more difficult to use.”

Although the NOAA study reached mixed conclusions about the ongoing California drought’s connection to climate change, new research out of Stanford University is a bit more confident. The Stanford study found it is “very likely” that atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought in the state are linked to human-caused climate change.

“Our research finds that extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region—which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California—is much more likely to occur today than prior to the human emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford climate scientist.

According to the study, these high pressure ridges—currently parked over the Pacific Ocean—are now three times more likely to occur, and as long as high levels of greenhouse gases remain severe, drought will become more frequent.

Emissions from Industrial Facilities Rose Last Year

Reported greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial facilities were 0.6 percent—or roughly 20 million metric tons—higher in 2013 than in the year previous, according to new data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which linked the rise to greater coal use for power generation. A large majority of the increase, 13 million metric tons, was from the power sector alone—though overall emissions from power plants are down 9.8 percent since 2010. Reported emissions from the oil and natural gas sector declined 12 percent from 2011 levels, according to the report.

The news comes on the heels of an extension of the public comment period on EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, and of new comments by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy concerning the proposal.

There will be “changes between proposal and final,” said McCarthy. “You may see adjustments in the state levels. You may see adjustments in the framework,” McCarthy noted, referring to the emissions reduction targets the EPA proposed for each state and to the formula used to calculate those targets. The changes could also include updates to the values for nuclear power and natural gas generation.

IEA Says Solar Could Become Dominate Energy Source by 2050

Solar could surpass fossil fuels as the largest source of electricity by mid-century, according to reports issued by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The reports suggests that together solar photovoltaic systems (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) could provide 27 percent of the world’s energy by 2050; fossil fuels would account for somewhere between 12 percent and 20 percent.

“The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “However, both technologies are very capital intensive: almost all expenditures are made upfront. Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps.”

By 2050, the IEA said, PV will surge from today’s 150 gigawatts of installed capacity to 4,600 gigawatts, while CSP will increase from 4 gigawatts to 1,000 gigawatts (subscription). These projections are based on the IEA’s expectations that China and the United States will remain top installers for the foreseeable future and that PV will dominate up until 2030.

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

The Supreme Court, in a 6-2 ruling, upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to regulate pollution from coal-fired power plants that drifts across state lines.

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CASPR), which applies to 28 states, aims to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which can lead to soot and smog. The rule was invalidated by a federal appellate court in August 2012 after it was challenged by a group of upwind states and industry because it enforced pollution controls primarily on coal plants. The higher court found the EPA acted reasonably.

“Most upwind states propel pollutants to more than one downwind state, many downwind states receive pollution from multiple upwind states, and some states qualify as both upwind and downwind,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The overlapping and interwoven linkages between upwind and downwind states with which EPA had to contend number in the thousands.”

The Clean Air Act, and specifically the good neighbor provision at issue, she said, does not tell the EPA what factors to consider. “Under Chevron [v. Natural Resources Defense Council] we read Congress’ silence as a delegation of authority to EPA to select among reasonable options,” she added (subscription).

The rule does not address greenhouse gas emissions, which are the subject of another proposed rule for existing coal-fired power plants that is expected to be released in June. Also due next month is another Supreme Court decision, this one on whether the EPA’s regulation of stationary source emissions through permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act was “a sensible accommodation or an impermissible exercise of executive authority.”

Electricity Sector Uncertainty and GHG Emissions

Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggests that accelerated plant retirements in either the nuclear power or coal power generation industry would change projections of carbon dioxide emissions. Accelerated retirements of nuclear plants would boost emissions; accelerated retirements of coal-fired plants would reduce them.

EIA predicts U.S. emissions could be 4 percent higher than expected by 2040, but 20 percent lower if more coal plants retire. Lower natural gas prices and stagnant growth in electricity demand will lead to the loss of 10,800 megawatts of U.S. nuclear generation—roughly 10 percent of total capacity by the end of the decade.

Even with the uncertainty facing the electricity sector, there are multi-benefit approaches that state-level environmental regulators and utility commissioners can use to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while simultaneously addressing other electricity sector challenges. That’s according to a new study by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. The study examines Clean Air Act section 111(d) compliance strategies offering these multi-benefit approaches.

Studies Focus on Sea Level Rise, Land Subsidence

Oyster reefs are creating resilience in the face of sea level rise and extreme weather. A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that vertical oyster reef accretion could outpace climate change-induced sea level rise, helping rebuild a shrinking oyster population. The research is the first to suggest that the reefs would act differently than any normal sea wall.

The study of 11 oyster reefs in intertidal areas on the North Carolina coast from 1997 to 2011 found that intertidal reefs have the potential to grow 11 centimeters vertically a year. Researchers acknowledged that much remains to be studied, including subtidal reefs.

Sea level rise may not be the only problem for some regions. In coastal megacities, the extraction of groundwater for drinking water is causing land to sink 10 times faster than sea level rise, according to another new study.

“Land subsidence and sea level rise are both happening, and they are both contributing to the same problem—larger and longer floods, and bigger inundation depth of floods,” said Gilles Erkens, who led the study by the Netherland’s Deltares Research Institute. “The most rigorous solution and the best one is to stop pumping groundwater for drinking water, but then of course you need a new source of drinking water for these cities. But Tokyo did that and subsidence more or less stopped, and in Venice, too, they have done that.”

Financial loss due to sinking, the research said, would reach nearly a billion dollars yearly and cities such as Jakarta, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City will sink below sea level if action isn’t taken.

Could Climate Change have Played Role in the Mount Everest Disaster?

Some scientists are linking the Mount Everest ice release—known as a serac—that killed 16 people last month to climate change.

“You could say [that] climate change closed Mount Everest this year,” said Western Kentucky University Professor John All (subscription).

Research conducted by the Kathmandu-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development showed that the Himalayan glaciers shrunk 21 percent in roughly 30 years. Studies by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which point to data collected through on-site monitoring and remote sensing, show a 10 percent reduction in ice during the last four decades.

Still, others say it is impossible to link any one disaster to long-term changes. Much of the evidence that warming is occurring is anecdotal, and the number of scientific observations is not large enough to draw solid conclusions, NBC News reports.

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

President Barack Obama unveiled his 2015 budget proposal Tuesday, outlining his spending and policy priorities for the upcoming year. In it, President Obama earmarked funding for both his Climate Action Plan and Climate Resiliency Fund.

The budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—the agency that released stricter fuel standards this week—represented a $309 million decrease from the current fiscal year budget. The nearly $8 billion requested for environmental protection demands “difficult” choices, said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Of those funds, 20 percent of the agency’s $1 billion climate and air quality budget will go toward global warming efforts. $10 million would support implementation of Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Meanwhile, energy spending was bumped 2.6 percent from the current budget. The increase includes about $2.3 billion to promote efficiency and renewable energy sources, which Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz views as a “longstanding commitment to innovation.”

“There’s a very, very strong focus … on energy efficiency across the board,” Moniz said. Funds are set aside for nuclear security and clean up as well as basic research.

Funding for the Department of the Interior saw a slight increase, which includes $1 billion for a climate fund that helps communities better prepare for and adapt to extreme weather events that result from climate change.

The budget announcement comes the same week a study in the journal Environmental Research Letters suggested nearly one-fifth of the world’s cultural landmarks could be affected by rising sea levels caused by global warming. Of the 720 spots examined, 20 percent could be ruined if temperatures rise 5.4 degrees above pre-industrial levels in the next two millennia.

Satellite Could Revolutionize Understanding of Precipitation, Extreme Weather

A new satellite is expected to improve our understanding and ability to monitor global precipitation. Launched by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NASA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency last week, the satellite will track all precipitation on Earth—delivering measurements every three hours.

“Knowing where, when, and how much it’s snowing and raining around the world is extremely important for understanding extreme events like blizzards, or drought in California, monsoon rains in Asia,” said Dalia Kirschbaum, the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory’s mission applications scientist. “So by having the global picture, all the way from what’s happening in our atmosphere around the planet down to what’s happening in my backyard—it gives us really powerful information to tell us about weather, about how our climate is changing and how we can improve our understanding and mitigation of natural hazards.”

The satellite is equipped with technology allowing it to create three-dimensional profiles of storm systems. NASA is using data collected by the satellite, along with other technology, to better respond to California’s ongoing drought.

Seismic Exploration Could Pave Path for Drilling in the Atlantic

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has proposed rules for seismic exploration of oil and gas in Atlantic waters, potentially setting the stage for a battle over offshore drilling in a 330,000-square-mile area from the mouth of Delaware Bay to just south of Cape Canaveral, Fla. In releasing its final review, the department favored a plan to allow use of underwater seismic air guns that environmentalists say threatens the survival of whales and dolphins but which the oil industry says is needed to assess how much oil and gas lies along the U.S. Atlantic seabed.

“The currently available seismic information from this area is decades old and was developed using technologies that are obsolete,” said Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which issued the environmental impact statement. Federal estimates of 3.3 billion barrels of oil are from the 1970s and 1980s.

Energy industry groups and politicians in energy states have called on the Obama administration to open federal waters off the Atlantic seaboard to create jobs and promote national energy security. The American Petroleum Institute, which hailed the BOEM recommendation, predicts that oil and gas production in the region could create 280,000 new jobs. But oil producers said the agency would need to signal that it plans to include the Atlantic in its next leasing plan for companies to actually invest in seismic testing. A final “record of decision” formalizing the agency’s approach is expected after public comment ends in April.

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

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced his administration will begin developing tougher fuel standards for the nation’s fleet of medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The new standards will build on a 2011 regulation that set the first-ever fuel standards for model years 2014–18. The next phase—for models beyond 2018—will be proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in March 2015.

“Improving gas mileage for these trucks is going to drive down our oil imports even further,” Obama said. “That reduces carbon pollution even more, cuts down on businesses’ fuel costs, which should pay off in lower prices for consumers. So it’s not just a win-win, it’s a win-win-win. We got three wins.”

In 2010, heavy-duty vehicles made up roughly 4 percent of registered vehicles on the road but accounted for 20 percent of on-road energy use and carbon emissions. Ahead of the roll out of the final rule in March 2016, the Obama administration was offering “new tax credits, both for companies that manufacture heavy-duty alternative-fuel vehicles and those that build fuel infrastructure so that trucks running on biodiesel or natural gas or hybrid electric technology.” Those credits, Politico reports, still require approval from Congress.

EIA Projects Increased Coal Fired Power Plant Retirements

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports in its Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Reference Case that a much larger number of coal electric power plants will retire by 2020 than has been announced thus far. The EIA projects about 60 gigawatts—accounting for one-fifth of existing 310-gigawatt coal-fired electric capacity. That’s 20 gigawatts more than power companies are reporting.

“In [EIA’s] projections, 90 percent of the coal-fired capacity retirements occur by 2016, coinciding with the first year of enforcement for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards” (MATS) as well as the rise of cost competitive natural gas, the report notes.

Despite the latest retirement projection, existing coal plants are expected to supply 32 percent of all U.S. electricity in 2020. Coal generation flattens out after 2020, the EIA predicts, as coal use increases due to projected high natural gas prices and nuclear plant retirements.

“Post-2020, demand for electricity in our projections increases as well as natural gas prices,” said EIA Analyst Michael Leff. “Therefore, there is less long-term economic pressure on coal post-2020, barring no future regulations.”

The EPA is working on new regulations—separate from MATS—that would regulate carbon emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants. Through early March, the agency is accepting comments concerning proposed carbon pollution standards now proposed for new plants.

A recent survey found many Americans are in favor of carbon regulations for power plants, but at a public hearing on the rules, some industry representatives criticized the agency’s requirement for carbon capture and storage technology to trap harmful emissions.

Kerry Says Climate Change Can Now be Considered Another Weapon of Mass Destruction

The United Kingdom has been rocked by record-breaking flooding. Although the U.K. Met Office has said there is no definitive link between climate change and recent weather events, it found unusual weather is “consistent with what is expected from the fundamental physics of a warming globe.”

Recent, unusual weather events have pushed climate change back into the political debate. While in Jakarta, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Indonesia—the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind the U.S. and China—that man-made climate change could threaten the populace’s way of life.

“Think about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” Kerry said. “It doesn’t keep us safe if the United States secures its nuclear arsenal while other countries fail to prevent theirs from falling into the hands of terrorists. The bottom line is this: it is the same thing with climate change. In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

Days earlier, Kerry visited China, where he announced a “co-operative effort” to address climate change ahead of a global summit on the issue next year. The visit to Indonesia, some reported, was part of a larger effort to enlist the help of developing nations in reducing emissions. However, others failed to find the strategy behind Kerry’s climate speech.

Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Further Delayed Following Court Ruling

The Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, hit another hurdle Wednesday, when a Nebraska judge struck down a state law approving the route of the controversial pipeline. The 2012 law gave Nebraska’s governor authority to approve the pipeline’s route through the state. The ruling further complicates a pending decision by the Obama administration on whether to approve the Keystone project. Obama was expected to discuss the issue with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a one-day North American Summit meeting Wednesday.

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.

Report Warns of Sudden Climate Change Impacts

On December 5, 2013, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hard-to-predict sudden changes to Earth’s environment are more worrisome than larger but more gradual impacts of climate change, according a panel of scientists advising the federal government. A 200-page report released Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences repeatedly warns of potential climate “tipping points” beyond which “major and rapid changes occur.” And some of these changes—happening in years instead of centuries—have already begun. They include melting ice in the Arctic Ocean and mass species extinctions.

Study co-author Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University compared the threat of abrupt climate change effects to the random danger of drunk drivers: “You can’t see it coming, so you can’t prepare for it. The faster it is, the less you see it coming, the more it costs.”

The report did have some “good news.” Two other abrupt climate threats—giant burps of undersea and frozen methane and the slowing of deep ocean currents that could lead to dramatic coastal cooling—won’t be so sudden, giving people more time to prepare.

Report authors say the threat of sudden climate change disaster requires an early warning system that would be integrated into existing warning systems for natural disasters. With improved scientific monitoring and a better understanding of the climate system, abrupt change could be anticipated and potential consequences could be reduced.

The National Academy of Sciences report follows the wrap up of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland, which produced the outlines of an emissions reduction deal to be agreed on in 2015. Though the pact’s wording was vague, some decisions were more concrete. They include a multi-billion dollar framework to tackle deforestation and measures to boost demand for a clean development mechanism encouraging countries without legally binding emissions targets to use carbon credits. Participants also finalized details on how countries’ emissions reductions will be monitored, reported and verified.

Saying the government should lead by example, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to increase their use of renewable energy from 7.5 to 20 percent by 2020. The new commitment is intended to reduce pollution and boost domestic energy independence.

Obama Environment Advisor to Step Down

The Obama administration will lose its second top environmental advisor, Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in February. In the post she’s held since 2009, Sutley helped spearhead the National Ocean Policy and contributed to Obama’s climate plan.

“Under her leadership, Federal agencies are meeting the goals I set for them at the beginning of the administration by using less energy, reducing pollution, and saving taxpayer dollars,” said President Obama in a statement. “Her efforts have made it clear that a healthy environment and a strong economy aren’t mutually exclusive—they can go hand in hand.”

Sutley’s departure comes on the heels of Heather Zichal’s exit last month and the resignation of Lisa Jackson, who left the EPA in early 2013. That leaves the big job of implementing—and defending—Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions on the shoulders of “new and existing power plant lieutenants,” according to ClimateWire.

Iran Nuclear Deal Reached

International negotiators recently reached a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program for six months—pending a formal pact freezing or reversing progress at all of Iran’s major nuclear facilities. Talks surrounding the formal pledge may begin as early as next week.

The deal, struck between Iran and five other major countries, brings a partial lifting of sanctions on Tehran. Oil sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union will be maintained even though key parts of Iran’s nuclear program will be rolled back.

“Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium,” said President Barack Obama. “Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.”

The temporary freeze that could start by early January represents the first time in about a decade that Iran has agreed to stop some of its nuclear activities. A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute suggests 77 percent of Israelis surveyed don’t believe the deal will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

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

EIA: Carbon Emissions Decline

On October 24, 2013, 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 2012, energy-related carbon emissions in the United States declined 3.8 percent even as global carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent, according the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The recorded 5.29 million metric tons of carbon dioxide amounted to the largest decline since 1994, continuing a downward trend that started in 2007. EIA attributed last year’s decrease to several factors, including a mild winter and alterations in energy consumption for transportation. Notably, U.S. power plants reduced their carbon emissions by 10 percent between 2010 and 2012. The overall energy-related emissions decline occurred in tandem with an increase in gross domestic product and energy output (subscription).

The downward trend may not last, The Washington Post reports. Energy-related emissions rose 2.6 percent in the first part of 2013, and the EIA expects emissions to keep rising. The U.S. State Department said the nation could reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases 17 percent by 2020, if it enacts proposed rules to curb methane leaks and to cut pollution from power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to solidify regulations. This week, it began its 11-citylistening tour,” which is intended to solicit ideas from the public on how to best regulate emissions from more than 1,000 power plants currently in operation.

Cleanup Delayed for Fukushima as Britain Signs First Nuclear Deal

Japan delayed plans to clean up towns surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for up to three years—affecting more than 90,000 people who are unable to return home after a series of meltdowns following an earthquake and tsunami two and half years ago. The original plan indicated cleanup of the most contaminated towns would be completed by March 2014.

“We would have to extend the cleanup process, by one year, two years or three years, we haven’t exactly decided yet,” said Shigeyoshi Sato, an official from the Environment Ministry in charge of the decontamination efforts. One reason for the delay—a lack of space to store the radioactive waste that comes out of the decontamination process.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom signed a roughly $26 billion deal to build new nuclear reactors—the first in 20 years—financed in part by China. The twin reactors are envisioned to advance the government’s goal of adding low-carbon energy sources. If built on time, the new reactors would begin operation in 2023 and operate for 35 years.

Studies Look at Climate Change Effects in Next Century

Several studies, looking at everything from ocean health to energy use, have found their way into recent media headlines.

New Climate by 2050: Research published in the journal Nature suggests that, on average, locations worldwide will leave behind the climates that have existed from the middle of the 19th century through the beginning of the 21st century as soon as 2047, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the next few decades. The new, more extreme temperatures would first occur in the tropics, where plants, people and wildlife are least equipped to adapt. About 1 billion people, according to the study, currently live in areas where the climate would exceed historical bounds of variability by 2050. The work highlights the need to scale back greenhouse gas emissions because a warming climate may drive some species to extinction, threaten food supplies and spread disease.

Climate Change to Impact Ocean Health: Every inch of the world’s oceans are predicted to undergo chemical changes associated with global climate change by 2100, according to research published in the journal PLOS Biology. More than two dozen scientists used projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with biological and socioeconomic data, to predict how oceans could be altered by the end of the century.

“If global CO2 emissions are not reduced, substantial degradation of marine ecosystems and associated human hardships are very likely to occur,” the study said.

This follows research published in Nature showing that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, coral reefs could be extinct by 2050.

Carbon Capture and Storage Development Slows: A new study suggests that since 2012, the number of projects that capture carbon dioxide emissions from power plants dropped from 75 to 65 worldwide. Although the number U.S. is a global leader in developing and deploying carbon capture and storage and carbon capture utilization and storage technology, it has proposed no new projects in these areas—in fact, no new projects have been proposed outside of China.

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.

Leadership Change in the White House

On October 10, 2013, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Heather Zichal, President Barack Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, announced plans this week to step down. Zichal has advised the president since 2008 and assisted in the creation of his Climate Action Plan, unveiled in June, to cut carbon emissions from U.S. power plants and other sources.

Although a replacement has not been named, some news outlets reported that Dan Utech, a deputy director for energy and climate at the White House, could be tapped for the role. Politico reported other names such as Kevin Knobloch, now chief of staff to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; Gary Guzy, deputy director of the Council on Environmental Quality and Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke. Whomever is chosen will face a sizeable to-do list that includes turning the president’s climate plan into a reality (subscription).

“Heather had her fingerprints on every climate and clean-energy success of this administration,” said Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress. “Heather’s replacement is going to have a big job ahead of them—she wrote the blueprint of the climate-action plan, and they’ll have to see it through.”

Her departure in the next few weeks marks a nearly complete turnover of the administration’s climate and energy team.

Renewable Fuel Standard Challenged by Industry

The American Petroleum Institute (API)—representing hundreds of oil and natural gas companies—has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the government’s estimate of the amount of ethanol that should be mixed with conventional gas under the 2013 Renewable Fuel Standard. Harry Ng, API vice president said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated refiners use 4 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2013 but that so far only 142,000 gallons have been available to refiners to blend.

“EPA issued this year’s requirement nine months late and has once again mandated significantly more cellulosic ethanol than is available in the marketplace,” said Ng.

The API filed its suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the same court that in January ruled in another API-filed lawsuit that the EPA was too “aspirational” in setting its 2012 cellulosic biofuels mandate.

Meanwhile, a report by GreenWire indicated draft proposals circulating among stakeholders signal the EPA intends to scale back 2014 targets for conventional corn ethanol and advance biofuels (subscription).

Government Shutdown Hits 10-Day Mark

As the partial government shutdown reaches its second week, there are glimmers of hope that Republicans and Democrats could break their impasse. House Republican leaders are considering a plan to raise the nation’s borrowing limit temporarily to buy time for negotiations on broader policy measures. The Washington Post reports that if the plan goes over well with rank-and-file Republicans, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) could put it on the floor for a vote late today, but getting things up and running again with this approach could take until next spring as the effects on the environment become more wide-reaching.

  • Science: Everything from the funding of scientific research to environmental protection programs are on hold, including groundbreaking work to harness the power of the sun through self-sustaining nuclear fusion.
  • Oil and Gas Permits: Though the government is still issuing offshore drilling permits, similar approvals for onshore oil and gas wells on public lands have stopped, and an oil and gas lease auction scheduled for later this month in New Mexico has been canceled. Thus, the shutdown will deprive the federal government of a reliable revenue source—more than 6 million acres of federal land leases auctioned in 2012 brought in more than $233 million.
  • Energy Markets: If the shutdown is prolonged, the data relied on to shape future commodity markets—especially for energy and agriculture—may not exist.
  • Workforce: The Department of Energy, though still fully operational, won’t be for long (subscription). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission began furloughing employees today.
  • EPA Rulemaking: The shutdown has forced the EPA to postpone the start of hearings on proposed carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants (subscription).

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.