White House Announces New Climate Change Initiatives

July 17, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The White House on Wednesday announced executive actions to help states and communities build their resilience to more intense storms, high heat, sea level rise, and other effects of climate change. The actions, which involve several federal agencies, were among the recommendations by the president’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

“…Climate change poses a direct threat to the infrastructure of America that we need to stay competitive in this 21st century economy,” said President Obama. “We’re going to do more, including new 3D maps to help state, local officials in communities understand which areas and which infrastructure are at risk as a consequence of climate change. We’re going to help communities improve their electric grids, build stronger seawalls and natural barriers, and protect their water supplies. We’re also going to invest in stronger more resilient infrastructure.”

The National Journal runs down the individual efforts by agency, which include a more than $236 million award to fund eight states’ efforts to improve rural electric infrastructure and a new guide by the Centers for Disease Control that will help local public health departments assess their area’s vulnerabilities to health hazards associated with climate change.

States Focus of Work after EPA’s Proposed Power Plant Rule

More than a month after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed rule to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants, a new study says states are well positioned to handle the rule’s requirements.

The rule, which uses an infrequently exercised provision of the Clean Air Act to set state-specific reduction targets and devise individual or joint state plans to meet those targets, has garnered some negative reactions. But the study conducted by the Analysis Group sees real benefits. The research examined states that have already taken steps toward reducing power plant emissions and found that if states design programs effectively, electricity rate increases will be modest in the near term, and electric bills will fall in the long term.

“Several states have already put a price on carbon dioxide pollution, and their economies are doing fine,” said Susan Tierney, senior adviser of the Analysis Group. “The bottom line: the economy can handle—and actually benefit from—these rules.”

States that work together to form carbon markets and other collaborative initiatives could experience even greater rewards, according to the Analysis Group.

“Experience shows that states that work together on market-based compliance initiatives—like RGGI [Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative] in the Northeast—can provide net economic benefits in terms of jobs and economic output,” said study co-author Paul Hibbard. “And RGGI shows that each state can have control over its own program design, so that combined efforts don’t step on states’ rights.”

Earlier this week environmental attorneys and representatives from states, industry, and NGOs gathered to discuss the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan—specifically state choices under and the potential impacts of the proposal—at an event hosted by the Environmental Law Institute and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Keynote speaker and U.S. EPA Senior Counsel Joseph Goffman highlighted three aspects of the rule: the EPA developed state emission goals based emission reduction strategies already being used by states, the proposal allows each state maximum flexibility to optimize strategies given local considerations, and state flexibility with the timing of implementation allows the coordination of compliance strategies with other dynamics in the energy sector.

Mountaintop Removal Focus of Court Case, Study

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled in favor of the EPA’s permitting process for mountaintop mining, a controversial practice to extract coal by way of clear cutting trees and removing mountain tops with explosives. The ruling overturned a decision by a lower court that found the EPA did not have authority to require mountaintop removal coal permits to go through an enhanced review process to crack down on water contamination from mining operations.

In 2009 the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers adopted the Enhanced Coordination Process, allowing the EPA to screen and review individual mining permits submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act. By 2011, the EPA recommended states impose more stringent conditions for issuing permits under the act—issuing a final guidance document relating to these permits.

“In our view, EPA and the Corps acted within their statutory authority when they adopted the Enhanced Coordination Process,” wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh (subscription). “And under our precedents, the Final Guidance is not final agency action reviewable by the courts at this time.”

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey finds that mountaintop removal mining negatively affects downstream fish populations.

Researchers compared samples collected from nearby bodies of water in 2010 and 2011 to samples collected by Penn State University researchers in 1999 and 2001. They found that mountaintop mining creates landscape changes, including changes in water flow that have significant impacts on fish.

“We’re seeing significant reductions in the number of fish species and total abundance of fish downstream from mining operations,” said Nathaniel Hitt, a study co-author.

Solar on the Rise in the U.S.

Solar power is becoming a vital part of the American economy, according to a report from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).

“Solar markets are booming in the United States due to falling photovoltaic (PV) prices, strong consumer demand, available financing, renewable portfolio standards (RPSs), and financial incentives from the federal government, states and utilities,” said Larry Sherwood, vice president and COO of the IREC. “Thirty-four percent more PV capacity was installed in 2013 than the year before accounting for 31 percent of all U.S. electric power installations completed in 2013.”

The report, produced annually, highlights major factors affecting the solar market and ranks the top 10 states in several categories.

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


EPA Releases Proposed Rule for Existing Power Plants

June 5, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week announced a proposed rule to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel–fired power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This first-of-its-kind proposal uses an infrequently exercised provision of the Clean Air Act to set state-specific reduction targets for carbon dioxide and to allow states to devise individual or joint plans to meet those targets. The EPA expects to finalize the rule by next June.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life,” said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. “EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source—power plants. By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids.”

An analysis by our Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions researchers highlights key details of the 600-plus-page rule, which assigns each state interim and final emissions goals. These goals are based, in part, on the efficiency of each state’s fossil fleet in 2012. They also reflect estimates of the emissions-reduction potential of efficiency upgrades to coal plants and increased use of renewable energy, demand-side energy efficiency, and existing natural gas capacity.

The rule provides states considerable flexibility to decide how to meet their interim and final emissions reduction goals. States may consider methods such as expanding renewable energy generation, creating energy efficiency programs and working with other states on the creation of regional plans. Once the EPA’s proposed rule is finalized, states will be given one to three years to finalize their state plans.

The rule sparked predictable political commentary. Republican leadership pilloried the rule, the President’s allies expressed gratitude for his leadership, and political pundits mused over the rule’s impact on the midterm elections. A Washington Post-ABC News post–rule-announcement poll found a large majority of Americans—70 percent—support regulating carbon from power plants. Americans in coal states were supportive of limiting greenhouse gas emissions regardless of whether their state was forced to make bigger adjustments than other states. And at least one set of political commenters—former Sen. Joseph Lieberman and I—point out that, if executed effectively, the rule could begin the nation’s path back to more comprehensive climate change policy.

China Taking Action as Well?

The proposed rule appeared to spur another of the world’s largest emitters—China—to consider capping its carbon dioxide emissions, starting with its next five-year plan in 2016. The suggestion, offered by He Jiankun, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change at a Beijing conference, was reported in several media outlets but was not an official pronouncement of the government.

“What I said today was my personal view,” said Jiankun. “The opinions expressed at the workshop were only meant for academic studies. What I said does not represent the Chinese government or any organization.”

Still, some saw the statement—by a senior advisor—as a promising development ahead of international climate negotiations that began Wednesday in Bonn, Germany. “As with many things in China, these officials don’t speak unless there’s some emerging consensus in the government that this is a position that they’re trending toward,” said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the environmental group at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I think it’s a very positive sign that this kind of debate has taken hold.”

Not all commenters were sanguine about the EPA rule. According to a German study released this week, even with the 30 percent emissions cut outlined in the EPA’s proposed rule, climate pledges the United States set at United Nations climate talks may not be met. The study found the EPA rule would reduce 2030 U.S. national emissions only about 10 percent below 2005 levels. In 2010, the United States promised to reduce greenhouse gases 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

“While the proposal is welcome, it is insufficient to meet the U.S.’s pledges of 17 percent reduction of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and is inconsistent with its long-term target of 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050,” said Niklas Hoehne of Ecofys, a German group that helped analyze the plan’s impact. “The plan implies an economy-wide decarbonisation rate of about 0.9 percent per annum, significantly lower than the 1.4 percent per annum achieved in the last decade. This is not as fast as required for a 2 C decarbonisation pathway.”

New Imports for Solar

The United States has set new import tariffs on some solar panels from China, saying some manufacturers had unfairly benefitted from subsidies. The still-preliminary Commerce Department ruling was prompted by a petition of charges filed by a group led by SolarWorld in 2011. The petition claims some Chinese companies avoided tariffs by shipping solar cell parts to locations like Taiwan—flooding the U.S. market with cheap products.

Duties imposed in the preliminary decision could range from 18.5 to 35.21 percent.

“The import duties, which are in line with our expectations, will wipe out the price competitiveness of Chinese products in the U.S. market,” said Zhou Ziguang, an analyst at the Chinese investment bank Ping An Securities in Beijing.

For U.S. companies, the news was mixed—some could see great benefits; others, very little.

“SunPower will be the primary beneficiary of the decision, given its presence in the U.S. distributed generation market where most Chinese companies supply product,” according to Morgan Stanley. “Although First Solar theoretically benefits, we believe that the impact will be small given limited presence of Chinese companies in the U.S. utility scale market.”

Rhone Resch, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said “These damaging tariffs will increase costs for U.S. solar consumers and, in turn, slow the adoption of solar.”

Last year the European Union overcame a similar trade dispute with Beijing when the trade partners agreed to set a minimum price for solar panels from 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.


Air Pollution Now Top Environmental Health Risk

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

New analysis from the World Health Organization (WHO) links exposure to air pollution to roughly 7 million deaths annually. The report confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest environmental health risk. It estimates 4.3 million people died in 2012—mainly due to cooking inside with coal or wood stoves. Another 3.7 million died from outdoor pollution, including diesel engine and factory emissions. The figures—more than double previous estimates—indicate that air pollution kills more people than smoking, diabetes and road deaths combined.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” said Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

The Western-Pacific region—including China, Japan and Australia—represented 41 percent (2.88 million) of the global deaths due to air pollution in 2012. In that year, countries in this region combined with countries in southeast Asia accounted for 5.8 million air pollution-related deaths.

Only three of 74 Chinese cities fully complied with state pollution standards in 2013. Earlier this month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang classified air pollution as a top priority for the nation’s authorities. China is now using drones to spy on industries in Beijing and other cities where illegal polluting may be contributing to the nation’s smog problem. These unmanned crafts take photographs of smokestack scrubbers and assess smoke color in the images for pollution.

“You can easily tell from the color of the smoke—black, purple, brown—that the pollution is over the limit, because if smokestack scrubbers are operating properly, only white smoke is emitted,” said ministry official Yang Yipeng.

In new tests led by the China Meteorological Administration, drones could be used during peak air pollution periods to spray chemicals that freeze pollutants, allowing them to fall to the ground.

Texas Disaster Puts Oil Spills in Spotlight

As news headlines commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, in which more than 10 million gallons of crude oil were spilled in the waters off Alaska, emergency crews were dealing with a new disaster in one of the country’s busiest shipping channels: the Houston Ship Channel.

Though millions of gallons smaller than the Exxon Valdez spill or the BP’s Deep Horizon spill in 2010, the spill from a barge collision near Galveston closed the shipping lane for several days while a high-tech buoy system helped guide the cleanup.

Since the Exxon Valdez, the United States has experienced at least two-dozen major oil spills, ranging from a few hundred to millions of gallons. Scientists are still discovering the ecological costs associated with these spills.

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds grim implications for the hearts of fish that were embryos, larvae or juveniles at the time of the BP oil spill, which coincided with tuna-spawning season. Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the study links the spill to potentially lethal heart defects in species of tuna, amberjack and other predatory fish.

“Larvae exposed to high levels were dead within a week,” said study leader John Incardona. “But we still don’t know how long they lived after exposure to lower levels [of crude oil], or how much spawning area may have been impacted.”

The NOAA study follows research out in February suggesting that low concentrations of crude can disrupt the signaling pathways responsible for regular heart rhythms in fish.

Renewable Energy Makes Strides

Cheap installation costs, high electricity prices and government subsidies have allowed the cost of solar power to stay on par with the cost of traditional energy sources—at least in Germany, Spain and Italy. That’s according to a new report by the consulting firm Eclareon. “Soft costs” and demand are keeping the same from ringing true in the United States, according to The Week.

A new experimental house—developed by the University of California, Davis, and Honda—is designed to generate more electricity than it consumes and to store the extra energy in a car’s battery for later use.

“It’s a new world in terms of vehicles operating not as isolated artifacts but as being part of a larger energy system, and I think the greatest opportunity for automakers is figuring out how their vehicles become part of that system,” said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

The home uses a geothermal system to provide heating and cooling. Solar panels, energy-efficient automated lighting, electric vehicle charging and pozzolan-infused and post-tensioned concrete use less than half of the energy of a similarly sized new home in the Davis area.

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


Reports, Website Document Effects of and Need for Dialogue on Climate Change

March 20, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last year, carbon dioxide briefly passed the 400 parts per million milestone. Now, says Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution for Oceanography, we’re on track to “see values dwelling over 400 in April and May. It’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever.”

This pronouncement comes the same week the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released a report and the White House, a website, that seek to illustrate the effects of climate change and advance dialogue about it.

“We believe we have an obligation to inform the public and policymakers about what science is showing about any issue in modern life, and climate is a particularly pressing one,” said AAAS CEO Alan Leshner. “As the voice of the scientific community, we need to share what we know and bring policymakers to the table to discuss how to deal with the issue.”

The AAAS report offers three messages about climate change: (1) it is happening, and humans are the cause; (2) risks posed by climate change are high and potentially damaging; and (3) the sooner we act, the lower the risks and costs. The report takes readers through a series of potential consequences of climate change that include accelerated sea level rise and food shortages as a result of the increasing difficulty of growing crops.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s next report, due out at the end of the month, is expected to touch on one of these topics. A leaked draft obtained by The Independent suggests that climate change will reduce crop yields by 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century. One study out now in the journal Nature Climate Change finds crop yields—specifically rice, corn and wheat—will decline more than 25 percent as a result of climate change.

Navy Tests Space Solar Idea

California and Texas topped a list of the 10 best states for clean energy jobs last year. The largest job creator? The solar industry.

Now, the impact of solar technology could extend into outer space. The United States Navy is working on a project that could, in theory, allow for the capture of enough solar power to run military bases and even cities. The Navy is working on “sandwich” modules or prototypes far larger than the International Space Station that would collect solar power while aboard an orbiting satellite. Specifically, a photovoltaic panel atop the satellite would absorb the sun’s energy. An electronics system would convert the energy into a radio frequency sent back to Earth.

“People might not associate radio waves with carrying energy, because they think of them for communications, like radio, TV, or cell phones,” said Paul Jaffe, a spacecraft engineer leading the project. “They don’t think about them as carrying usable amounts of energy.”

The idea of capturing solar power in space is not a new idea. The International Academy of Astronautics recently suggested that space solar technology would be viable in the next 30 years.

Decision on U.S. Oil Exports Complex

In 2013, crude oil production in the United States reached its highest level since 1989—a roughly 15 percent increase from 2012, according the Energy Information Administration.

The Ukrainian crisis and record-setting levels of U.S. oil production have some policymakers and industry officials calling for the reversal of a ban on most crude oil exports. Opponents and proponents disagree about the impact to consumers should the ban be lifted.

“I think it is realistic that the U.S. could be energy self-sufficient by the end of this decade,” said Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson. “We’re already the world’s largest natural gas producer (and) last year crude oil production surpassed levels not seen since the 1980s.”

The topic’s varying angles dominated discuss at the annual IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston recently.

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.


Clean Air Rules Face Scrutiny as World’s Largest Emitter Develops Climate Plan

December 12, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Oral arguments were held Tuesday to determine the legality of a rule that regulates air pollution crossing state lines. Before the U.S. Supreme Court was the issue of whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exceeded its authority by designing state limits for air pollution when it developed the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which was intended to take effect in January 2012. In particular, the court considered whether the EPA’s determinations of upwind states’ “significant contributions” to air pollution in downwind states were consistent with the language of the Clean Air Act (CAA). In August 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the rule, which required 28 upwind states in the South and Midwest to cut ozone and fine particle emissions, primarily from power plants.

Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Malcolm L. Stewart likened the EPA’s situation to that of a basketball coach answering a question about whether the missed layup or missed desperation shot at the buzzer “contributed significantly” to the loss of a game. Under the CAA, he said, the EPA has to decide which of the states that transported pollution across a border “contributed significantly” to a neighboring state’s inability to satisfy a federal clean air standard.

Revival of CSAPR may be in the offing, the Associated Press suggested. “It’s certainly hard,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. of the task of allocating responsibility, “but it is what the [Clean Air Act] statute says, and it seems to me that if EPA had taken a different view, it would have been contrary to the statute.” The National Journal, however, saw no clear indication of which direction the justices were leaning. A tie vote, the Washington Post reports, would leave the earlier ruling in place and send the EPA back to the drawing board.

Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) was also before the court Tuesday. The MATS rule, which aims to reduce mercury and other air toxics from the country’s coal- and oil-fired power plants, also faced challenges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit this week. Industry groups have claimed the agency’s rulemaking process was “substantively and procedurally flawed.”

Meanwhile, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases has proposed a new plan to deal with the consequences of global warming that it admits it is ill-prepared to address. According to the plan, China will implement a number of initiatives—such as promoting better farming practices and protecting nature and wildlife—by 2020.

United States Poised to Top Germany in Solar Installations

As the International Energy Agency signals higher than previously forecast global oil demand in 2014, a new report indicates that total installed solar power grew 35 percent in 2013 compared with last year in the United States. Developers are on pace to nearly double the 930 megawatts of photovoltaic solar installed in the third quarter—the second-largest quarter for solar installations in U.S. history. States leading installations this quarter included California, Arizona, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Nevada.

The Solar Energy Industries Association’s report predicts U.S. solar capacity could rise 27 percent by the end of the fourth quarter, putting the United States ahead of Germany for the first time in 15 years. In a discussion with Deutsche Welle about the potential for solar to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Eicke Weber, director of the largest solar research institute in Europe, claimed “we’re at a floodgate” of a solar energy boom.

Podesta to Join Obama Administration

John Podesta, currently chairman of the Center for American Progress, is said to be joining President Barack Obama as an advisor. Podesta played a critical role in shaping former President Bill Clinton’s environmental record as his chief of staff in the late 90s. He’s continued to make climate change a priority at the Center for American Progress.

During his one-year appointment, likely beginning next month, Podesta is again expected to play a pivotal role in shaping the country’s environmental policy.

“He will advise on a range of issues with a particular focus on issues of energy and climate change, but will obviously bring a lot of experience to bear,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. He will not work on matters related to the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposal he has criticized in the past.

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.


Global Temperature Rises in 2012, Climate Conditions Questioned

January 17, 2013

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Just days after the announcement that last year was the warmest in history for the continental United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found global temperatures are rising too.

In their separate annual analyses of surface temperatures, NASA and NOAA ranked 2012 among the 10 warmest years on record globally (NOAA showed 2012 as the 10th warmest while NASA found it to be the ninth warmest). With the exception of 1998, the nine hottest years have occurred since 2000—with 2005 and 2010 coming in the hottest. Both agencies reported temperatures across Earth rose about 1 degree Fahrenheit.

While each successive year may not be warmer than the year prior, with the current course of greenhouse gas increases, NASA scientists expect each decade to be hotter than the next. “One more year of numbers isn’t in itself significant,” said NASA GISS Climatologist Gavin Schmidt. “What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming. The reason it’s warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, according to NASA, were 285 parts per million in 1880; now they are more than 390 parts per million.

Studies out this week in two scholarly journals look more closely at the effects of warming. One, in the journal Nature Climate Change, reports the world may be able to avoid 20 to 65 percent of the adverse effects of climate change by the end of this century. The other finds soot just may be the second-largest contributor to climate change, and that certain emissions cuts could produce cooling effects. “Reducing emissions from diesel engines and domestic wood and coal fires is a no-brainer, as there are tandem health and climate benefits,” said University of Leeds co-author Piers Forster. “If we did everything we could to reduce these emissions, we could buy ourselves up to half a degree less warming, or a couple of decades of respite.” A scientist in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography tells Nature the study does not answer questions about the overall effect of aerosol emissions on climate.

Last week, a federal study also laid much of the blame for record U.S. temperatures on greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity.

Renewable Energy on the Map

While representatives from France and the United Nations discussed the importance of renewable energy at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, delegates remained unsure whether the U.N. 2030 target of 30 percent renewables is achievable. “The shift towards low-carbon energy has started,” said Christina Figueres, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “But it is not happening at the scale or speed required.” Fossil fuels still account for about 80 percent of the global energy mix.

As Ontario phased out coal and the first portion of an offshore wind power line in the northeastern U.S. moved ahead, one organization launched an open-access global atlas aimed at helping countries assess their renewable-energy-generating potential to better meet the target. The map only offers solar and wind data sets currently, but other renewable information will be added in the future.

Sandy Relief Package Passes House

Weeks following Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a roughly $50 billion package designed to provide backing for long-term structural repairs as well as emergency relief for victims in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. It comes on top of a nearly $10 billion package to replenish flood insurance programs authorized earlier this month. The damage is extensive, with areas such as New York requesting nearly $42 billion from the federal government.

The Senate is expected to consider the aid next week.

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.

 


Harnessing Sun, Wave Power for Energy

July 26, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a short summer break next week, returning Aug. 9.

Oceans, which cover more than two-thirds of the planet, hold a large amount of energy. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates ocean wave and tidal currents have the potential to account for 15 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030.

While technologies harnessing energy from tides and currents have been domestically discussed for decades, the nation’s first commercial tidal energy project was dedicated in Maine Tuesday. This first tidal generator is expected to begin delivering electricity to the regional power grid in September—with just enough juice to power 25 homes as it starts out. The U.S. Navy, too, is exploring harnessing wave power as part of a larger plan to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent by 2020.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Interior identified 17 sites on public land across six Southwestern states that could be ideal for the development of solar energy. The plan, which will be finalized after a 30-day comment period, places 445 square miles of public land in play for utility-scale solar facilities. On the technology front, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles are taking the idea of solar power from roofs to windows with the invention of a thin, transparent solar cell that can turn the sun’s energy into electricity while still allowing visible light to stream through. The cells, researchers claim, can be produced at high volume for low cost and installed at an estimated $10 to $15 per window.

Effects of Drought, Heat Continue To Be Felt

NASA satellites tracking ice surface melt in Greenland recorded unprecedented melting over the course of four days in July—melting even occurred at Greenland’s coldest, highest place, Summit Station. While the ice sheet normally sees melting over summer months, the speed and scale of the thaw—which went from 40 to 97 percent—surprised scientists. “Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average,” said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist who belongs to the research team analyzing the satellite data. “With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time. But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome.”

The drought in the United States continues to spread, forcing some plains ranchers to sell cattle and driving down the U.S. corn yield to a 10-year low. It has some contemplating whether we are headed for a repeat of the 2008 global food crisis, but others are more optimistic, saying farmers may weather the drought better than in 1988. With National Weather Service forecasts indicating the drought is likely to worsen, The Washington Post took a comprehensive look at whether climate change is causing the drought. The short answer: Droughts have multiple causes, there have been worse ones in the past, and most evidence suggests droughts will become more intense in many parts of the world if the planet keeps heating up, which could disrupt the world’s food supply.

Rules Get Review

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing part of a controversial rule that sets the first federal standards to reduce mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants. The review was prompted by power plant operators who found the rule was confusing for new plants.

The EPA also has issued new—and largely unnoticed—rules limiting sulfur dioxide and soot emissions from cruise ships. The new rules, which go into effect Aug. 1, would require cruise ships to immediately reduce the sulfur content of their fuel from an average of 2.7 percent to 1 percent, and to reduce that number to 0.1 percent by 2015. EPA estimates the benefits of the new rule, by 2015, will be like removing 12.7 million and 900,000 cars off the road per day in terms of sulfur dioxide and soot emissions. The cruise ship industry and some Alaskan officials worry about the increased cost and availability of the lower-sulfur fuel, however, and Alaska’s attorney general has filed a lawsuit to block the new rules.

The European Commission announced a rescue plan that would withhold carbon allowances to support its Emissions Trading Scheme, which has struggled of late due to an oversupply of carbon credits. The rescue plan would involve “backloading,” or delaying auctions of carbon allowances, in an effort to bolster the program. While there are no firm numbers in the draft proposal itself, a Commission analysis assesses the possibility of withdrawing 400 million, 900 million or 1.2 billion allowances over the first three years of the market’s next phase.

Cars that Drive Themselves

Motor vehicles are responsible for a significant percentage of U.S. carbon emissions. As YaleE360 tells it, self driving cars—which could greatly reduce the risk of accidents and slash fuel consumption and emissions—may be a reality sooner than you think.

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.


Rio+20 Pushes on with Weak Text, Mixed Predictions

June 21, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Delegates from around the world are meeting in Rio de Janeiro to discuss how to make the planet more sustainable, despite a rapidly growing population. The reprise of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit dubbed “Rio+20” has so far drawn mixed reactions: some call it an “opportunity”; others say it is another step on a long, complicated road to realizing a more sustainable society. William K. Reilly, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and chairman of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Board of Advisors chose to reflect on then and now, noting the two decades since leaders first met in Rio the “concept of sustainable development has evolved from theory to increasingly common practice.” BBC News illustratesjust how much the world has changed since the first Earth Summit.

Late Monday night, negotiators did agree on a draft framework for sustainable development goals. The text is not expected to change much when heads of state convene to discuss it, according to U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern.

As The Washington Post reported, many of the concrete steps needed to move toward a more sustainable future are already being take on by major cities regardless of the outcome at Rio+20. The efforts of these 58 cities will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 248 million tons in 2020. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes energy has a big role and introduced the “Sustainable Energy for All Plan” in Rio, which would end energy poverty by 2030.

Despite what’s happening in Rio, a new poll indicates many Americans believe there’s been an environmental decline in the last 10 years and they are attributing it to human activity.

Japan Sets Sights on Solar Future

As it shifts from nuclear power following the Fukushima radiation disaster, Japan is positioning itself to become the second largest market for solar power. The country introduced incentives for renewable energy that could expand revenue in this area to more than $30 billion by 2016. In the U.K., energy from renewable sources accounted for roughly 12.4 percent of the European Union’s overall consumption, with Estonia recording the largest increase between 2006 and 2010.

Germany, who also opted to move away from nuclear by 2022, is feeling the burden of its decision. Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at Berlin Free University, said, “The way for Germany to compete in the long run is to become the most energy-efficient and resource-efficient market, and to expand on an export market in the process.” If Germany succeeds, Technology Review reported, it could provide a workable blueprint for other industrialized nations.

A new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds the prospects for renewable energy, at least in the U.S., to be promising—concluding it could supply 80 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050.


Moratorium Mulled after Defeat of NC Sea Level Rise Bill

The North Carolina House of Representatives this week rejected a Senate bill that would have prohibited policy makers from using projections of accelerated sea level rise for coastal development planning purposes. This may lead lawmakers to enact a moratorium on such predictions pending further study by the state, which could take years. NewScientist breaks down the evidence of sea level rise in the state.

The EPA has turned down a demand by U.S. environmental groups to issue new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, ships and off-road vehicles, saying it “does not have the resources to consider all possible sources of climate change in the near or medium term.” Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday defeated a proposed measure that would have overturned EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, or MATS, a rule aimed at limiting emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants. It will be the first federal standard to regulate toxic emissions from these plants, and is projected to result in coincident greenhouse gas reductions. A recent poll suggests most Americans favor the rule—provided that companies are given enough time to comply.

Public companies in the U.K.—some 1,600 in all—may soon have to divulge all details about the greenhouse gases they emit, according to the Guardian. More companies may face the requirement, beginning as early as April 2013, after the policy is reviewed in 2015.

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

 


North Carolina Legislature Mulls Ban on Sea Level Rise Projections

June 7, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The link between climate change and sea level rise, already well established, has been reinforced by recent studies. But sea level rise also made headlines in a more unusual way recently after some North Carolina legislators introduced a bill that would call into question some of the scientific projections related to sea level rise in the state. Specifically, their draft legislation would “prohibit state and local government agencies from using projections of accelerated sea level rise—due mainly to global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps—when forming coastal development policies and regulations.”

The document has drawn criticism across the world, even finding a spot on the popular spoof television show The Colbert Report. Duke University’s Bill Chameides characterized it as an attempt to “legislate away” what is possibly “the greatest threat that climate change poses to North Carolina.” The Senate’s Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hear the bill today.

Elsewhere, rising temperatures are being blamed for the transformation of more shrubs into trees in the northwestern Eurasian tundra. According to a Reuters report, the advancing of such forests could negatively impact the climate—increasing warming by as much as 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. And in other remote parts of the Arctic, scientists have recorded what’s been labeled a climate milestone—carbon dioxide levels above the level of 400 parts per million. It’s a measurement some scientists believe hasn’t been reached in roughly 800,000 years.

Climate’s Effect on Energy

Warming waters and reduced river flows in the United States and Europe could have a significant impact on power generation, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Rising temperatures, the study said, would affect coal and nuclear plants dependent on rivers for cooling during production. In the U.S. alone, capacity could fall as much as 16 percent on warmer days between 2031 and 2060.

While coal use dropped to 34 percent in March—its lowest level since January 1973—so did the U.S. utility industry’s confidence in the energy source. In fact, in a survey of utility industry executives, 56 percent said coal had a future as a fuel source, down from 82 percent in 2010. Confidence in renewables, however, was higher at 96 percent.

Or maybe executives won’t have to choose. One new technology, out this week, claims to be equipped to produce cost-effective electric power with little to no emissions from any fuel source.

In Japan, solar makers are betting a new feed-in tariff could help the country boost power generation from solar past its current 1 percent. The tariff program is set to launch next month. Meanwhile, in the U.K. the use of solar and wind power as a source of secondary income for farmers is gaining popularity. The move, according to the National Farmers’ Union, could be a major contributor to profitable farming.

Emission Stunners

Despite congressional deadlock, new International Energy Administration (IEA) data indicates the U.S. leads the world in CO2 emission cuts since 2006. The IEA cited lower oil use and a shift from coal to gas as factors in the 7.7 percent cut.

Negotiations for a new climate treaty that would help to reduce emissions worldwide fizzled in Bonn, Germany recently. The deadlock was a result of disputes among rich and poor countries over technicalities—namely how to divide the burden of emissions cuts between developed and developing nations.

Cities are the solution to addressing climate change, according to a new infographic by C40 cities. Cities across the world are creating plans to reduce emissions. Where are climate change plans more prevalent? In places prone to natural disasters, increasing temperatures and rainfall variability such as Latin America. In fact, 95 percent of Latin American cities are planning for climate change. In New York, rooftops are being transformed—speckled with solar panels, coated with white paint and even plants—to make them more climate-friendly. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is expected to extend a 100 percent green electricity option to customers this month.

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


Keystone Pipeline Debate Reopens with Submission of New Application

May 10, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Department of State has received a new application from TransCanada—the company behind the controversial Keystone XL project—to ship crude oil via a proposed pipeline running from the Canadian border to existing infrastructure in Nebraska. TransCanada had its initial application rejected by the Obama administration in January. The reapplication to the U.S. State Department on Friday calls to reroute the pipeline around the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills Region of Nebraska—adding miles onto the project. Despite the new route, some in Nebraska still oppose the plan. The pipeline is causing other problems as lawmakers debate a multi-year surface transportation plan—the first one since 2005.

If approved, construction on the pipeline could happen in early 2013, with oil flowing as soon as 2014, according to The Canadian Press.

That same day, the Obama administration issued a proposed rule requiring companies drilling for natural gas on federal and tribal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. While the rules also set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal, disclosure of the chemicals used in the “fracking” process would not have to be reported until after work is complete. The regulations, which could go into effect by the end of the year, spurred debate among environmentalists, industry and lawmakers—with some saying the rules didn’t go far enough. Others highlighted the “toughest” provisions, which require tests of wells’ physical integrity and expand the scope of water protected from drilling—but pointed out the rules “only apply to a sliver of the nation’s natural gas supply.”

Gas prices have continued a steady decline the last five weeks, causing the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to revise forecasts for the summer—predicting motorists will spend $10.7 billion less than previously estimated.

Heartland Institute Pulls Controversial Billboards

The Heartland Institute made headlines again recently for suggesting—in billboard ads—that only terrorists believe in manmade global warming. The failed campaign attacking the existence of climate change prompted a firestorm of criticism and recalled another kerfuffle involving the Institute earlier this year. Reactions to the campaign caused the Institute to announce removal of the billboards after being up just 24 hours. Even after they were removed, some donors pulled funding for the Heartland Institute, but others weren’t so quick to cut their ties with the organization.

A new study focuses blame for warming on another species entirely. It links methane emissions from dinosaurs, the sauropod specifically, to climate change and a warmer Mesozoic era. Like the dinosaurs before them, modern-day methane emitters such as cows and sheep are being studied to determine how the methane they emit could be contributing to warming. Regardless, according to the study, emissions from dinosaurs were far larger than those of our modern-day plant-eating animals, and in fact may have equaled all modern methane emissions—both natural and manmade.

New data sheds li­ght on the speed of melting glaciers, and how their changes affect sea levels. Greenland’s ocean-bound glaciers accelerated by an average of 30 percent from 2000 to 2011—not quite as quickly had been estimated in previous worst-case scenarios, but still a cause for concern.

The Rise and Fall of Renewables

While a solar-powered boat was circumnavigating the world, on land the U.S. activated the first solar power project on federal land near Las Vegas. Meanwhile, residential solar leasing is taking off, Motley Fool reported. And in the next five years, the world’s solar power generating capacity is predicted to grow more than 200 percent, although public support for green energy initiatives has dropped recently.

Japan may be taking steps toward renewable energy after taking its last nuclear reactor off line last week. The move left the country without nuclear power for the first time since 1970. But MSNBC insisted renewables wouldn’t bring immediate relief, as only 10 percent of Japan’s power generation currently comes from renewables. Saudi Arabia is exploring whether it can generate a third of its electricity by way of solar power.

In the U.S., the renewable winner may not be necessarily who you think, according to the Washington Post. The EIA now has a map showing a large uptick in renewables between 2001 and 2011. This surge in renewables can largely be attributed to state renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, federal production tax credits and stimulus grants. The stimulus grants have expired; the tax credit for wind will expire at the end of 2012. The Guardian reports there is an effort underway by conservative think tanks in the U.S. to eliminate all government programs aimed at promoting the use of renewables.

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.