The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next Thursday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return November 30.

Although the world’s greenhouse gas emissions leveled out between 2014 and 2016, new studies presented this week at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, suggest that emissions will rise 2 percent in 2017.

“The temporary hiatus appears to have ended in 2017,” wrote Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who along with colleagues at the Global Carbon Project tracked 2017 emissions to date and projected them forward in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Economic projections suggest further emissions growth in 2018 is likely,” wrote the authors.

The primary driver of the rising emissions increase is a 3.5 percent increase in China’s emissions due to decreased use of hydropower and an uptick in coal use. India is expected to see a 2 percent rise in emissions. Meanwhile, the United States, the world’s second largest emitter behind China, is projected to experience a 0.4 percent decline in emissions.

The studies add urgency to the efforts of those in Bonn to negotiate the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the global treaty that aims to limit global warming. Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the Global Carbon Budget 2017 study and director of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, said the timeframe for meeting Paris Agreement targets is shortening: “Our expectations had always been that emissions would grow, but perhaps not as steeply as this.

“With global CO2 emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5C,” Le Quéré added.

COP 23: Coal, Finances, and Subnational Support

As signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) finish the second week of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, their focus remains on hammering out the details of the Paris Agreement, the global treaty aiming to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

How exactly the needed actions will be financed is yet to be seen.

“We need all financial players—public, private, domestic, international—and including markets and regulators, to work together effectively to mobilize at least $1.5 trillion in climate finance that is needed every year,” said Eric Usher, head of Finance Initiative at the U.N. Environment Programme.

Now that the United States is the only country not supporting the Paris Agreement—President Donald Trump announced in June that it would withdraw from the agreement—the administration’s only appearance at the conference focused on fossil fuels.

George D. Banks, special adviser to President Trump on international energy issues, led a panel with top American energy executives, offering that “without question, fossil fuels will continue to be used, and we would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure when fossil fuels are used that they be as clean and efficient as possible. This panel is controversial only if we choose to bury our heads in the sand.”

Despite the Trump administration’s stance on the agreement, U.S. states and cities are looking to take action on climate change. This week, 20 states and 50 cities signed a pledge to abide by the emissions reduction targets of the Paris agreement.

“It is important for the world to know, the American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us,” former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said in Bonn.

The group is vowing to take measures, such as reducing coal-fired power and investing in renewable energy and efficiency, which would substantially reduce its carbon output.

Study: A Warming Planet Makes Harvey-like Storms More Likely

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, some researchers pointed to the increased likelihood of extreme rain events as the planet warms, but a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes further. It supports the idea that the specific risk of such events is already on the upswing because of humans’ contributions to climate change. According to the study author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, since the end of the 20th century, global warming has helped increase the annual likelihood of Harvey-like rainfall in Texas by 6 percent. By century end, that probability could rise to 18 percent.

To better understand how climate change is skewing those odds, Emanuel generated 3,700 computerized storms for each of the three climate models used in the study. He situated Texas storms in the climates of the years from 1980 to 2016. In these climates, he found that an event producing 20 inches of rain was extremely rare. When he performed a similar analysis in the projected climates of the years 2080 to 2100, Harvey’s 33 inches of rain in Houston became a once-in-a-100-year event, rather than a once-in-a-2,000-year event, and for Texas as a whole, the odds increased from once in 100 years to once every 5.5 years.

“The changes in probabilities are because of global warming,” Emanuel said.

In the study, global warming helped slow hurricanes by pushing land and ocean temperatures closer together, leading to the kind of longevity witnessed with Harvey, but the other and greater effect of that warming is the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture.

“If [general circulation] slows down, then places near the coast will get more rain,” Emanuel said. “But the main reason our technique shows increasing rainfall is that there’s more water in the air.”

The significance of this study, Emmanuel noted, is to alert city planners to the changing probabilities of large-scale hurricanes in Texas.

“It is important for those people who will rebuild Houston and rethink its infrastructure to understand the magnitude of the risk and how it will change over time,” he said.

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

This week, signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) meet in Bonn, Germany, to discuss implementation of the Paris Agreement, a global treaty that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Before the meeting wraps up Nov. 17, signatories hope to lay the groundwork for the conclusion of the Paris agreement terms at COP24 in Poland, including rules on transparency, accounting, markets, and resilience.

“The conference in Bonn is a preparatory meeting for the next COP in Poland, where the fine print of the Paris Agreement will be decided,” said Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the German environment ministry. “In a nutshell, it’s about shaping the transparency rules on how states measure and report their progress in climate mitigation. The Paris Agreement is built as a bottom-up structure, where the [parties] themselves decide the contributions they can and want to make. This is why it’s most important to make sure that every party abides by their own targets and honestly reports about their efforts and results. So even though it’s very hard to communicate this to the public, the negotiations in Bonn are actually about the heart of the Paris Agreement.”

Since COP23 kicked off Nov. 6, two holdouts from the 2015 Paris Agreement signing—Syria and Nicaragua—have become signatories. That leaves the United States as the only country in the world not supporting the deal to limit global greenhouse gas emissions. President Donald Trump announced in June that the U.S. would withdraw from the climate agreement, a process that will be complete in 2020.

A significant focus at the COP23 is actions of cities, states, and other subnational actors that are stepping up to address climate change. Later this week, California Gov. Jerry Brown, together with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, will release a new report highlighting the progress of U.S. states, cities, and businesses in addressing climate change.

U.S. states, such as California, are signaling even further climate action. Brown proposed linking his state’s carbon market with the European Union’s and announced plans to cooperate on market design and implementation in Brussels, Tuesday.

“I would hope that we could explore linking California and the European Union,” Brown said. “We are already linked with Quebec. We are about to be joined by Ontario. Other states are also considering joining. That would be a concrete investment kind of move that California and other states and provinces could become a part of.”

Study Finds Strong Link Between Climate Change and Human Activities

A scientific report, released last week, says that it is “extremely likely” the use of fossil fuels and human activities are the main cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization. According to that report, a global average temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 115 years has led to record-breaking weather events and temperature extremes.

“It is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” says the Climate Science Special Report, part of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

The assessment, mandated every-four-years by the Global Change Research Act, analyzes human and naturally caused global changes and their effects on everything from agriculture and energy production to human health. Produced by 13 federal agencies and peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, it is the United States’ most definitive statement on climate change science.

The Climate Science Special Report affirms that the United States is already experiencing more extreme heat and rainfall events and larger wildfires in the West, but sea-level rise may be the clearest evidence of climate change. More than 25 coastal U.S. cities are experiencing increased flooding, and seas could rise by from 1 to 4 feet by the year 2100. A rise of more than eight feet is “physically possible” with high emissions of greenhouse gases. Of the rapidly escalating levels of those gases in the atmosphere, the report states, “there is no climate analog for this century at any time in at least the last 50 million years.”

The report cautions that current climate models are likelier to underestimate future warming than to overestimate it. Although those models have accurately predicted the past few decades of warming, they may fail to capture how warm Earth can get. Researchers may not fully understand climate tipping points—difficult-to-predict points of no return.

Trump USDA Nominee Withdraws from Consideration

Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s pick for chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture, withdrew himself from consideration for the post. Clovis, whose nomination hearing was scheduled for this month, blamed the political tone in Washington for his decision in a letter to Trump.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis wrote.

The professor and conservative radio talk show host from Iowa, who served as national co-chair of Trump’s campaign, had come under fire after foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty to charges related to brokering of a relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Clovis was also scrutinized for his climate change skepticism and lack of an advanced science degree, a 2008 farm bill requirement of appointees to the position.

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.

IEA: Universal Energy Access Achievable by 2030

On October 26, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A new analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the number of people without electricity fell from 1.6 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2016—and that the most cost-effective strategy for lowering that number is compatible with the demands of global climate change goals. The analysis, which looked at 140 developing countries, concludes that universal energy access is possible by 2030 and that solar technology will be the linchpin of the effort.

“Providing electricity for all by 2030 would require annual investment of $52 billion per year, more than twice the level mobilized under current and planned policies,” the IEA analysis reports. “Of the additional investment, 95% needs to be directed to sub-Saharan Africa. In our Energy for All Case, most of the additional investment in power plants goes to renewables. Detailed geospatial modeling suggests that decentralized systems, led by solar photovoltaic in off-grid systems and mini-grids, are the least-cost solution for three-quarters of the additional connections needed in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Although coal supplied 45 percent of energy access between 2000 and 2016, its role in new access will shrink to 16 percent, according to the report. Meanwhile, renewables are poised to take the leading role, growing from 34 percent of the supply over the last five years to 60 percent by 2030. The reason: they are becoming cheaper, and the hardest-to-reach people live where off-grid solutions offer the lowest cost.

The biggest gains in access will be experienced by developing countries in Asia, particularly India, which could achieve universal energy access by 2020. But 674 million people, nearly 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa, will remain without electricity even after 2030, the report said.

The IEA report underscores the central role of energy in meeting human and economic development goals. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 by 193 countries is to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030.

PJM Opposed to Department of Energy Directive

More than 500 comments—some hundreds of pages long—were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by Monday’s deadline following Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s September directive to FERC to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in wholesale power markets. The change proposed by Perry would mandate that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid.

The largest grid operator, the PJM Interconnection, in comments asked regulators to reject the directive, calling the plan “unworkable.”

“I don’t know how this proposal could be implemented without a detrimental impact on the market,” said Andrew Ott, who heads up PJM Interconnection, noting that PJM feels Perry’s proposal is “discriminatory” and inconsistent with federal law.

Ahead of Monday’s comment period, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute hosted a webinar for state regulators explaining the legal and market implications of Perry’s directive.

FERC is allowing to Nov. 7 for parties to file responses to the initial comments.

Senate Committee Approves Trump EPA Nominees

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a 11 to 10 party line vote, on Wednesday advanced President Donald Trump’s nomination of Michael Dourson and William Wehrum to the full Senate where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can schedule a vote for confirmation. Dourson, a University of Cincinnati professor, longtime toxicologist and former EPA employee, is being considered to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office of chemical safety and pollution prevention. Wehrum, who currently serves as partner and head of the administrative law group at Hunton & Williams—a practice focused on air quality issues—is slated for the post of assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of air and radiation.

The two nominees were questioned at a confirmation hearing Tuesday where much focus was placed on Dourson’s post as a special advisor at the EPA and his duties associated with that role. Committee Democrats questioned whether Dourson was violating the law by working at the EPA prior to being confirmed.

“Your appointment creates the appearance, and perhaps the effect, of circumventing the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent responsibility for the position to which you have been nominated,” 10 Democrats wrote in a letter to Dourson, warning that it would be “unlawful” for him to assume the duties of the position to which he’s been nominated.

Wehrum’s hearing, which was held earlier this month, focused in part on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—a program managed by the office of air and radiation.

“The RFS is a very complex program, and there are extensive provisions within the law that govern how it should be implemented, and even more extensive regulations that EPA has adopted,” Wehrum said. “So, I have to say I know a bit about the RFS. I don’t know everything about the RFS. So, I said this before, but I really mean it. If confirmed, part of what I need to do is fully understand the program and part of what I need to do is fully understand your concern, and I commit to you that I will do that senator.”

The other nominees approved by the committee are Matthew Leopold for assistant administrator for the Office of General Counsel, and David Ross, for the Office of Water.

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.

Trump Nominates CEQ Lead

On October 19, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump last week nominated Kathleen Hartnett White, a former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) commissioner, to serve as head of the Council on Environmental Quality. If confirmed, White who is presently a distinguished senior fellow in residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, would head a key White House office that coordinates environmental and energy policies across the government.

Prior to Governor Rick Perry’s appointment of White to the TCEQ in 2001, she served as then Gov. George Bush’s appointee to the Texas Water Development Board. She has served on the Texas Economic Development Commission and the Environmental Flows Study Commission and sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Regulatory Science, the Texas Emission Reduction Advisory Board, and the Texas Water Foundation.

Nomination of White, originally a contender to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seems to follow the pattern of other Trump cabinet members: she denies climate change and has questioned the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At the Texas Public Policy Foundation, White works on the Fueling Freedom project, which seeks to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels.” In a Q&A with the Orlando Sentinel she discussed the superiority of fossil fuels over renewables.

“At this point in time, there are no alternative energy sources capable of providing the endless goods and services that fossil fuels now handily provide,” said White. “Our abundant, concentrated, affordable, versatile, reliable, storable and controllable energy from fossil fuels is far superior to renewable energy . . . Adding more and more variable, uncontrollable renewables to the electric grid will serve only to necessitate backup power from reliable coal or natural gas to stabilize the mix.”

FERC Chairman Speaks on Department of Energy Directive

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry has received criticism from lawmakers and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) staff following last month’s proposal that FERC establish reliability and resilience pricing for certain power plants in regional trading organization markets.

“This proposal is just a first step in seeking to ensure that we truly have an energy policy that first and foremost protects the interests of the American people,” Perry told the House Energy Subcommittee about the change that would mandate increased payments for plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies. “Following the recommendations of the Staff Report, the department is continuing to study these issues and, if, necessary, will be prepared to make a series of additional recommendations to improve the reliability and resiliency of the grid.”

Neil Chatterjee, acting FERC chairman, pledged not to “blow up the market” as FERC acts in the prescribed 60-day window on the proposed rule, which would benefit coal and nuclear plants and which some have said could upset decades of electricity market reform.

Chatterjee suggested to GreenWire that FERC could do an advance notice of proposed rulemaking or a notice of proposed rulemaking superseding the DOE proposal. FERC could also extend the comment period, convene technical conferences, or initiate Federal Power Act Section 206 review proceedings.

“There are many tools available to the commission to act within 60 days to address and put a process in place … determining whether or not there are attributes that need to be properly valued, in a legally defensible manner, that doesn’t blow up markets,” Chatterjee said.

The proposal adds complexity to ongoing discussions of whether and how FERC-regulated wholesale electricity markets should evolve in light of a changing generation mix and evolving state policy objectives. In recent years, some states have sought to subsidize some generation sources to meet their particular energy and environmental goals, raising questions about what such policies mean for FERC-regulated wholesale markets. Last month the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions hosted a workshop examining challenges and recent proposals for harmonizing state policies and regional market design in the PJM region.

Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley Pipelines Approved

FERC has issued separate orders granting approval permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in two 2–1 votes. The two projects are among a collection of pipeline projects proposed or under construction that are intended to take advantage of the Marcellus gas boom, but they are not without critics.

FERC rejected calls for more public comment on the proposals, writing “all interested parties have been afforded a full complete opportunity to present their views to the commission.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would run through West Virginia and is proposed to span 303 miles and cost $3.7 billion.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5 billion project by Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, will carry gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and eight counties in eastern North Carolina, crossing 600 miles of the Southeast to transport about 1.5 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas to customers in North Carolina and Virginia.

“Natural gas from the pipeline will increase consumer savings, enhance reliability, enable more renewable energy and provide a powerful engine for statewide economic development and job growth,” said Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good. “It also supports our plan to produce cleaner energy through newer, highly-efficient natural gas plants and allows more capacity for Piedmont Natural Gas to serve new homes and businesses.”

Cheryl LaFleur was the dissenter, highlighting the projects’ potential environmental impacts.

“I recognize that the Commission’s actions today are the culmination of years of work in the pre-filing, application, and review processes, and I take seriously my decision to dissent,” LaFleur wrote in a statement. “I acknowledge that if the applicants were to adopt an alternative solution, it would require considerable additional work and time. However, the decision before the Commission is simply whether to approve or reject these projects, which will be in place for decades. Given the environmental impacts and possible superior alternatives, approving these two pipeline projects on this record is not a decision I can support.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Flat for Third Consecutive Year

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

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

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

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A Trump administration review of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants, is expected to be finalized this fall, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a court filing last week.

The EPA was expected do away with the signature climate regulation, which the Supreme Court stayed in early 2016 and which would require the U.S. electricity sector to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by up to 32 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2030. But, according to Politico, the Trump administration has suggested that it might consider a replacement at the urging of power companies fearful that a repeal could trigger courtroom challenges that would lead to years of regulatory uncertainty.

If, for reasons of regulatory certainty and legal prudence, the Trump administration does conclude that some limits on the plants’ carbon emissions are a good idea, The Hill reports that the regulation is likely to focus solely on carbon reductions that plants can achieve, mainly by improving the efficiency of coal-fired generators. By contrast, the existing rule ordered reductions based not just on efficiency gains but also on use of relatively low-carbon power sources like natural gas as well as renewable fuels. Hence carbon reductions achievable through a Trump rule would be much lower than former president Barack Obama’s rule, and emissions might actually rise if efficiency gains discouraged the closure of coal plants by making them cheaper to operate.

If the Trump administration does move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, it will have to change the cost-benefit calculus to justify the move, reported ClimateWire (subscription). According to the Obama-era EPA, every $1 spent on compliance might buy $6 in benefits, in part by averting premature deaths and health problems. The Trump administration’s cost-benefit analysis, promised last March as part of its announced review of the rule, could telegraph how it might recalculate the benefits of curbing climate change as it moves to eliminate other Obama-era regulations.

Announcement of the Clean Power Plan review’s finalization came as officials from the White House’s policy councils and representatives from federal agencies, including the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, met to begin plotting a climate and energy strategy, one aimed at new policies that break from the Trump administration’s extensive efforts to repeal climate regulations and to push back on the public perception that the administration doesn’t support climate change science, a perception reinforced by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s launching of a critique of the validity of that science.

“This was a forward-looking meeting on strategy and how to prioritize the administration’s climate goals and objectives moving forward,” said an administration spokesman said. “This particular meeting was more big picture strategy.” The purpose was to bring together “a whole group of stakeholders … that are involved in climate issues and looking ahead to what policy initiatives we may put in place.”

Nevertheless, on Monday the EPA announced that it is preparing to submit a final report to the White House on rules that are ripe for repeal because they may burden fossil fuel production and use—a report required of all federal agencies by Trump’s March executive order on regulations, E.O. 13783, and by subsequent Office of Management and Budget guidance.

Ontario Joins California and Quebec in Carbon Market

Ontario joins California and Quebec in their cap-and-trade program, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Announced on Friday, the agreement, which takes effect Jan. 1, creates the world’s second largest carbon market behind the European Union’s market.

“Climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions,” said Kathleen Wynne, premier of Ontario. “Now more than ever, we need to work together with our partners at home and around the world to show how our collaboration can lead to results in this international fight. Today’s carbon market linking agreement will add to the success we have already seen in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario, Québec and California. We are stronger together, and by linking our three carbon markets we will achieve even greater reductions at the lowest cost.”

The system puts a “cap” on the amount of pollution companies in certain industries can emit. If they exceed those limits, they must buy allowance permits at auction or from other companies that come in under their pollution limits. Linking the carbon markets means participating companies will be able to use carbon allowances and offsets issued by any of the three governments at their quarterly auctions. The addition of Ontario significantly expands the allowance market, according to California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young.

“Ontario’s market is roughly 40 percent to 50 percent the size of California’s carbon market,” he said. “Quebec’s is 15 percent of California’s.”

Transportation Emissions under Microscope

The Federal Highway Administration announced that the 2016 Transportation Clean Air Rule, which requires state and local planners to track and curb pollution from trucks and cars on federal highways in their jurisdictions, goes into effect today.  Legal pressure following a Trump administration announcement, in May, to “indefinitely delay” the rule earned its reinstatement.

With the rule back in place, the Federal Highway Administration can resume working with state and local planners to find transportation options that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the first compliance deadline of October 2018.

Originally finalized days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the rule requires state and metro transport agencies and planning organizations to track carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles traveling on the national highway system. The agencies also must set two-year emissions-reduction targets, four-year targets, or both, and they must periodically report on their progress.

A Federal Register notice indicates that the Trump administration will still propose a rule repeal by the end of the year—possibly finalizing it in spring 2018.

Some states, including California and Massachusetts, already require highway planners to consider the climate impacts of roads. For California in particular, history, legal precedent and regulatory defiance has given the state the unique authority to write its own air pollution rules and set its own auto emissions standards. For now, the federal waiver allowing California to set these standards will not be revoked, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. It appears California may re-open discussions on its greenhouse gas limits for cars and trucks for 2025 if automakers and the Trump administration embrace tougher targets that the state is seeking for later years.

“The price of getting us to the table is talking about post-2025,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board. “California remains convinced that there was no need to initiate this new review of the review and that the technical work was fully adequate to justify going ahead with the existing program, but we’re willing to talk about specific areas if there were legitimate concerns the companies raised — in the context of a bigger discussion about where we’re going post-2025.”

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOE Solar Program Hits Target Early; Funding Issued for Cybersecurity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricanes Raise Climate Change Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Department of Energy, on Wednesday night, released its electric grid reliability study, finding that the greatest driver of baseload power plant retirements was cheap natural gas followed by flat power demand, environmental regulations and the growing penetration of renewables on the grid.

Requested by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April, the study was intended to report on whether the U.S. electric grid can handle the retirement of aging coal-fired and nuclear power plants and the “market-distorting effects of federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others.”

It found that “the biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation.”

It offers recommendations to boost coal and nuclear. It suggests that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ease rules for resources such as coal, nuclear and hydropower and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission likewise ease permitting rules for nuclear plants. It also suggests that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expedite efforts to reform the way prices are set in wholesale markets and how those markets value reliability. Finally, it recommends that the Department of Energy should prioritize research and development for grid resiliency, reliability, modernization and renewables integration technologies be promoted.

Notably absent from the grid study was any mention of climate change, the focus of a 15-member panel disbanded Friday by the Trump administration. The panel had been charged with helping officials and policy makers evaluate a separate federal report, the National Climate Assessment Report. Its members warned that the move leaves the public to deal with what amounts to a data dump with its impending release.

Established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2015, the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained Climate Assessment included members of government, industry, academia and non-profits. The group was charged with helping evaluate the National Climate Assessment Report, a portion of which [the Climate Science Special Report] was widely publicized in its draft form earlier this month.

The charter for the committee expired Sunday. A note on the committee’s website offers that “per the terms of the charter, the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment (Committee) expired on August 20, 2017. The Department of Commerce and NOAA appreciate the efforts of the committee and offer sincere thanks to each of the committee members for their service.”

NOAA Communications Director Julie Roberts said “this action does not impact the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which remains a key priority.”

The Climate Science Special Report is due in its final form in November; the larger congressionally mandated document, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, is scheduled for publication in late 2018.

The National Climate Assessment integrates and evaluates current and projected global climate change trends, both human-induced and natural, and analyzes the effects of current and projected climate change. It has been published three times since passage of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, a law mandating its publication every four years.

Court Directs FERC to Consider GHG Impacts of Pipelines

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 decision issued Tuesday, found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fuel flowing through the Southeast Market Pipelines Project when it approved the project in 2016. FERC’s failure under the National Environmental Policy Act to adequately discuss the downstream effects of carbon emissions from natural gas transported through the pipelines in the project’s environmental impact statement was grounds for the court’s vacatur and remand.

Judge Thomas Griffith wrote that FERC’s environmental review “should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so.”

Griffith went on to write that “greenhouse-gas emissions are an indirect effect of authorizing this project, which FERC could reasonably foresee, and which the agency has legal authority to mitigate. Quantification would permit the agency to compare the emissions from this project to emissions from other projects, to total emissions from the state or the region, or to regional or national emissions-control goals. Without such comparisons, it is difficult to see how FERC could engage in ‘informed decision making’ with respect to the greenhouse-gas effects of this project, or how ‘informed public comment’ could be possible.”

The project comprises three natural gas pipelines under construction in Alabama, Georgia and Florida that are intended to bring natural gas to Florida to fuel existing and planned power plants.

Trump Denies Coal Exec Plea as EPA Reviews Toxic Waste Limits from Coal Power Plants

As part of a legal appeal, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt filed a letter Monday with the Fifth Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans in which he indicated that he will seek to revise the 2015 guidelines mandating increased treatment for wastewater from coal-fired power plants.

The rule, originally issued by the Obama administration in 2015, aimed to reduce toxic water discharges into lakes, rivers and streams from coal-fired power plants and coal ash dumps.

In the letter, Pruitt said he “decided that it is appropriate and in the public interest to conduct a rulemaking to potentially revise the new, more stringent Best Available Technology Economically Achievable effluent limitations and Pretreatment Standards for Existing Sources in the 2015 rule that applies to bottom ash transport water and flue gas desulfurization wastewater.”

The 2015 rule has faced some scrutiny, with opponents saying it could lead to the closure of coal-fired power plants and economic harm for small utilities.

Also this week, the Trump administration denied a request by coal industry executives from Murray Energy Corporation and FirstEnergy Solutions Corporation to provide them relief for plants they say are overburdened by environmental regulations and market stresses, by pushing forward a rarely used emergency order protecting coal-fired power plants.

“We look at the facts of each issue and consider the authorities we have to address them but with respect to this particular case at this particular time, the White House and the Department of Energy are in agreement that the evidence does not warrant the use of this emergency authority,” said U.S. Department of Energy spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.

The department did not address assertions by Murray Energy Corporation CEO Bob Murray in letters that Trump told him multiple times in July and August that he wanted Energy Secretary Rick Perry to invoke the emergency authority.

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, DOT Reviewing Fuel Economy Standards

On August 17, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a Federal Register notice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation announced they were considering rewriting emissions standards for cars and light trucks made between 2022 and 2025.

The review covers vehicle model years 2022 to 2025. The EPA is also seeking comments on whether fuel standards for the 2021 model year “are appropriate.” The public comment period will be open for 45 days.

“We are moving forward with an open and robust review of emissions standards, consistent with the timeframe provided in our regulations,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “We encourage the public to submit the best-available and most up-to-date information, so that we can get back on track with what the regulation actually requires of the agency. Finally, we are working with DOT to ensure that our standards are ultimately aligned.”

In 2009, automakers agreed to the Obama administration’s rules, which would bring the average fleetwide fuel economy to between 50 and 52.6 miles per gallon in 2025.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which sets fuel economy standards in parallel with the EPA, announced last month it was reconsidering its 2021 mandate as part of its scheduled rulemaking for model years 2022 to 2025.

The EPA has until April 1, 2018 to determine whether the 2022-2025 standards set by the previous administration are appropriate. NHTSA has until April 2020.

Climate Reports: Human Fingerprint Evident in Significant Disruption

At the poles, in the tropics, and beneath the ocean’s surface, the authors of a new report see symptoms of human-caused climate change.

The 27th annual assessment known as the State of the Climate found that last year Earth was hotter than at any time in 137 years of recordkeeping and that it experienced the most significant climate disruption in modern history. In the United States alone, 15 weather or climate-related disasters—drought, wildfire, four inland floods and eight severe storms—caused 138 deaths and $46 billion in damages.

The peer-reviewed report compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Weather and Climate from research conducted by scientists around the world found that a powerful El Niño magnified the effects of heat brought on by greenhouse gases. Particularly notable were record concentrations of carbon dioxide, which increased by the largest year-to-year increase in the six decades of measurement, surpassing 400 parts per million for the first time as an annual average (subscription).

That average far surpasses that of the last 800,000 years, during which concentrations have oscillated between 180 and 300 parts per million (subscription).

Other records included the highest sea levels and lowest sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctica and the highest average sea surface temperature.

Some other highlights of the report:

  • At any given time, nearly one-eighth of the world’s land mass was in severe drought.
  • Extreme weather such as downpours, heat waves, and wildfires struck across the globe.
  • The number of tropical cyclones was 13 percent more than normal.

A separate study published last week in Geophysical Research Letters and based on modeling and weather patterns shows the odds of three years in a row of record-setting heat with and without man-made global warming in model simulations. Without a human climate influence, there’s a less than 0.5 percent chance of that occurrence at any time since 2000. With such an influence, the odds increase to the 30–50 percent range.

Trump Issues Executive Order Targeting Infrastructure

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that will, in part, repeal a 2015 directive by former President Barack Obama establishing a federal policy to “improve the resilience of communities and federal assets against the impacts of flooding,” which are “anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats.” Trump’s executive order was in favor of simplifying the approval process for federal infrastructure projects.

“Inefficiencies in current infrastructure project decisions, including management of environmental reviews and permit decisions or authorizations, have delayed infrastructure investments, increased project costs, and blocked the American people from enjoying improved infrastructure that would benefit our economy, society, and environment,” the order said. “More efficient and effective federal infrastructure decisions can transform our economy, so the federal government, as a whole, must change the way it processes environmental reviews and authorization decisions.”

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Monday, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia order directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out an Obama-era rule that sets methane pollution limits for the oil and gas industry.

Nine of the 11 court judges issued the order upholding a July ruling that found that the Trump administration overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act when it tried to delay the methane rule.

Implemented in 2016, the rule targets new and modified sources of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas with long-term global warming potential thought to be many times that of carbon dioxide. The rule was expected to reduce 510,000 short tons of methane in 2025, the equivalent of reducing 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

After President Donald Trump asked the EPA to review the rule in a March executive order, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in an April letter, stayed the deadline for oil and gas companies to follow the new rule by 90 days. Pruitt later sought to pause the methane rule two years to “look broadly” at regulations and review their impact.

Studies Find Earth Tilting Hard toward Warming Tipping Point

Hope that limiting climate change to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures—the oft-cited threshold of “dangerous” warming—has been further diminished by recent studies published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

One study co-authored by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that human forces have heated the climate for longer than thought—since at least 1750—pushing the so-called “preindustrial” baseline for the planet’s warming backward and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that we can emit to avoid 2 or more degrees Celsius of warming.

The Mauritsen and Pincus study analyzed past emissions of greenhouse gases and the burning of fossil fuels to show that even if that burning suddenly ceased, Earth would continue to heat up about two more degrees Celsius by 2100.

This view was similar to that of another study led by the University of Washington’s Adrian Raferty. That study calculates the statistical likelihood of various amounts of warming by the year 2100 given three trends that matter most for carbon emissions: global population, countries’ GDP (on a per capita basis), and carbon intensity (the volume of emissions for a given level of economic activity). The research puts median warming at 3.2 degrees Celsius and concludes that there’s a 5 percent chance that the world can hold warming below 2 degrees Celsius this century. The authors say there’s a 90 percent chance that temperatures will increase by 2.0 to 4.9 degrees Celsius.

Raferty’s team built a statistical model covering a range of emissions scenarios, finding that carbon intensity will be the most important factor in future warming despite the expectation that technological advances will cut that intensity by 90 percent this century.

“The big problem with scenarios is that you don’t know how likely they are, and whether they span the full range of possibilities or are just a few examples,” said Raferty. “Scientifically, this type of storytelling approach was not fully satisfying. Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen. We’re closer to the margin than we think.”

Construction Ends on Twin Nuclear Reactors

South Carolina utilities SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper on Monday opted to end construction of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station’s two reactors. The first reactor at V.C. Summer had been expected to go online in August 2019, with the second following a year later.

“The best-case scenario shows this project would be several years late and 75 percent more than originally planned,” Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter said in a statement announcing the decision. “We simply cannot ask our customers to pay for a project that has become uneconomical. And even though suspending construction is the best option for them, we are disappointed that our contractor has failed to meet its obligations and put Santee Cooper and our customers in this situation.”

The move makes the future of the United States nuclear industry even more unclear. With just one nuclear plant under construction, as much as 90 percent of nuclear power could disappear over the next 30 years if existing units retire at 60 years of operation—the current maximum length of operating licenses.

In the southeast, where the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station reactors were located, it is unlikely that existing units can simultaneously be replaced with new plants given the long lead times and limited applications for new nuclear plants at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions study explores how the potential loss of existing nuclear plants in the Southeast interacts with the regions other electricity sector challenges—among them, increasing natural gas dependence, demand uncertainty, and emerging technology—and it proposes steps states can take to address these challenges.

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.