The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump revoked much of the National Ocean Policy put in place in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The president cited a need to improve energy security.

“Ocean industries employ millions of Americans and support a strong national economy,” Trump wrote in the new executive order. “Domestic energy production from Federal waters strengthens the Nation’s security and reduces reliance on imported energy … This order maintains and enhances these and other benefits to the Nation through improved public access to marine data and information, efficient interagency coordination on ocean-related matters, and engagement with marine industries, the science and technology community, and other ocean stakeholders.”

The order supports drilling and other industrial uses of the oceans and Great Lakes, in contrast to the 2010 National Ocean Policy, which focused largely on conservation and climate change.

Trump’s list of seven ocean policy priorities includes calling for federal agencies to coordinate on providing “economic, security, and environmental benefits for present and future generations of Americans.” Other listed priorities mention the need to “facilitate the economic growth of coastal communities and promote ocean industries,” “advance ocean science and technology,” and “enhance America’s energy security.”

Antarctic Ice Melting Speeds Up

The most comprehensive study to date of Antarctica’s ice sheets has found sharply accelerating ice loss. The assessment published in the journal Nature, funded by NASA and the European Space Agency and performed by a consortium of academic institutes and government agencies around the world, indicates that the rate of loss of Antarctic ice has tripled in the last five years compared to the last two decades.

Whereas Antarctica was losing ice at a rate of 73 billion metric tons per year a decade ago, it is now losing 219 billion metric tons per year, a rate scientists say could contribute six inches of sea-level rise by 2100.

The scientists involved in the study arrived at their finding by combining data from 24 satellite surveys, which resulted in the creation of a new dataset that could improve future projections of sea-level rise by allowing the ice sheet modeling community to test whether their models can reproduce present-day change.

“Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track [polar ice sheet] ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence,” said Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, who co-led the study.

The rapid, recent changes were driven almost exclusively by warm ocean waters that are destabilizing the West Antarctic ice sheet’s largest glaciers from below.

Notably, the researchers concluded that increases in the mass of the East Antarctic ice sheet were not nearly sufficient to make up for the rapid decreases in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Another study published last week in the journal Nature, this one by a team of scientists funded by the National Science Foundation, found that large parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet did not significantly melt millions of years ago, when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were similar to today’s levels. However, the authors cautioned that could change as these concentrations continue to rise above 400 parts per million. They averaged 410 parts per million in April—the highest recorded monthly average.

Draft Report Says World Off Track to Meet 1.5 C Goal

A leaked draft report suggests that human-induced warming would exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius by about 2040 if emissions continue at their present rate, but that countries could keep warming below that level if they made “rapid and far-reaching” changes.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, set a goal of limiting warming to “well below” a rise of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times while pursuing efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The final government draft of Global Warming of 1.5ºC, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report, obtained by Reuters and dated June 4, indicates that government pledges are too weak to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.

The draft report is set for publication in October, after revisions and approval by governments. In a statement, the IPCC said it will not comment on the contents of draft reports, because the work is ongoing.

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

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next week (June 14). It will return on Thursday, June 21.

Members of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) want to meet with Trump administration officials to discuss the federal government’s specific plans to ease the corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE standards.

“CARB has participated in a number of high-level meetings with the White House and federal agencies, but we have not been given any specific proposals to respond to, and so remain concerned that the agencies are departing from the evidence and the law, as well as failing to honor our historic partnership,” wrote Steve Cliff, CARB’s deputy executive officer in a letter printed by ClimateWire. “This matter is of vital importance to public health and the environment, and it is essential that we have an opportunity to meet with OIRA [Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs].”

California has vowed to stick to its own, stricter standards authorized under the Clean Air Act despite plans by the Trump administration to weaken fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards. On May 1, seventeen states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s revisiting of Obama-era vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards last month.

Although it is reported that the new EPA proposal will outline a series of alternatives to the existing standards, the preferred option seems to be a freeze of fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration submitted their proposal to the Office of Management and Budget recently. It will undergo review before it is published for public comment.

Closing the Global Energy Financing Gap

The path taken to bring reliable electricity to the more than 2 billion people in the world lacking it has major ramifications for development, global power dynamics and climate change. Government-sponsored development finance institutions are key for delivering energy financing to emerging markets—contributing roughly a third of all investment directly—and playing a critical role in  reducing investment risks and mobilizing private capital into the clean energy space.

The U.S. government’s little-known development finance institution, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), remains underutilized and lacks core financial tools and capabilities. Legislation to establish a new fully-equipped institution to promote investment in developing countries continues to move closer to passage in Congress. A new policy brief by my colleagues at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Energy Access Project at Duke University outlines the energy financing gaps in emerging markets and analyzes how the new tools and authorities proposed under Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act (BUILD Act) legislation may equip the new U.S. development finance institution to respond to those financing needs.

The stakes are high, as China has made overseas infrastructure investment a centerpiece of its foreign policy. OPIC’s entire investment portfolio across all sectors is currently less than the $25 billion that Chinese policy banks invested in foreign energy projects in 2017 alone. With domestic coal demand on the decline in China, these same government banks are investing an average of $5 billion per year in new overseas coal facilities.

The policy brief finds that a modernized U.S. development finance institution would increase U.S. global influence, open clean energy investment opportunities for U.S. companies in high-growth emerging markets, and provide a more transparent and market-oriented alternative to Chinese government infrastructure financing.

Trump Administration Eyes Coal Bailout

President Donald Trump ordered U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry “to prepare immediate steps” to stop the closing of coal and nuclear plants, according to a White House statement.

“Unfortunately, impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities are leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation’s energy mix, and impacting the resilience of our power grid,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

A leaked plan, published by E&E News, calls for the creation of a “strategic electric generation reserve” to promote national defense and maximize domestic energy supplies. It also requests the direct purchases of electricity or capacity from a list of specific coal and nuclear plants over a period of 24 months.

The leaked memo invokes DOE’s emergency powers under section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, as well as an obscure provision in the Defense Production Act of 1950, enabling the Department to require the performance of private contracts “in preference to other contracts” in order to “promote the national defense.”

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.

 

Study Examines EVs’ Electricity Grid Role

On May 31, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

If California uses electric vehicles (EVs) as mobile power storage, it could eliminate the need to build costly stationary grid storage for energy from renewable sources, according to a new study by the researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The researchers suggest that the California Energy Storage Mandate (AB 2514)—which requires procurement of 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020—can be accomplished through the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program as long as controlled charging (one-way power flow) is also widely deployed.

“The capital investment for stationary storage can instead be redirected to further accelerate the deployment of clean vehicles and vehicle-grid integration, and could even be used to pay EV owners when their vehicles are grid-connected with controlled charging,” write the authors. “In this manner, not only are clean vehicles an enabler for a clean electricity grid at substantially lower capital investment, but the avoided costs of supporting renewables with stationary storage can be used to further accelerate the deployment of clean vehicles.”

The research shows that electric vehicles could help California grid operators adapt to the state’s rapid adoption of solar power, which is contributing to a problem known as the “duck curve”—a deep decrease in demand during midday hours, followed by a steep increase just as solar power fades away. The idea is that electric vehicles could help mitigate daytime overproduction and evening energy surges by charging into the grid at predetermined times and destinations throughout the day, when and where demand is low.

The researchers also looked at scenarios in which electric vehicles not only have controlled charging but also send back some of their energy into the grid through “vehicle-to-grid.” They estimated an offset of as much as $15.4 billion in stationary storage investment if just 30 percent of workplace chargers and 60 percent of home chargers allowed EVs to provide power to the grid.

Trump Repeals Rule to Cut Down on Transportation Emissions

The Federal Highway Administration on Wednesday published a notice in the Federal Register repealing a rule promulgated by the Obama administration that would have required states receiving federal dollars to account for and report greenhouse gas emissions created by cars traveling on their roads.

The rule, which temporarily went into effect last fall, required that state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations calculate how much and how many cars traveled their roads in order to establish greenhouse gas emissions targets, calculate their progress toward them, and report that progress to the Federal Highway Administration.

“While the GHG [greenhouse gas emissions] measure did not require States to reduce CO2 emissions, a State could feel pressured to change its mix of projects to reduce CO2 emissions,” the Federal Highway Administration wrote.

Study Examines Economic Benefits of Limiting Warming

Limiting global temperature rise to the Paris Agreement’s 2 degrees Celsius warming goal could save the world economy trillions of dollars, according to a new study in the journal Nature. The study, the first to examine how global economic output would be affected under different amounts of warming, concludes that meeting the 1.5 Celsius Paris Agreement goal—the more ambitious of the agreement’s two warming goals—would avoid $30 trillion in damages from heat waves, droughts and floods—a figure far greater than the cost of cutting emissions.

The study suggests that the global economy could generate an additional $20 trillion in gross domestic product compared to one in which temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius.

“By the end of the century the world would be about three percent wealthier,” said lead author Marshall Burke of Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, referencing the 1.5 degrees Celsius target relative to 2 degrees Celsius.

The study analyzed how gross domestic product over the last 50 years correlated with temperature changes and combined those findings with climate model projections of future temperatures to calculate how overall economic output may change under different warming scenarios.

“It is clear from our analysis that achieving the more ambitious Paris goal is highly likely to benefit most countries—and the global economy overall—by avoiding more severe economic damages,” said Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University.

Those countries benefiting from a warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius represent 90 percent of global population and include almost all the world’s poorest countries as well as the three biggest economies: the United States, China and Japan.

A study published in Nature Climate Change in March put the cost of meeting the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal at three times that of holding temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. The costs of the more stringent goal hit heavily in the near term, when deep cuts in transportation and buildings sector emissions would be required. The study did not, however, weigh those upfront costs against the greater economic costs associated with a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump replaced a 2015 executive order that directed federal agencies to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, instead asking agencies to set their own goals for efficiency.

The original executive order, signed by former President Barack Obama in 2015, aimed to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent in a decade. To do so, it asked agencies to reduce buildings’ energy use by 2.5 percent per year, shrink water use and use clean energy for 25 percent of their energy needs.

The new Trump executive order directs federal agencies to follow the laws related to energy use enacted by Congress “in a manner that increases efficiency, optimizes performance, eliminates unnecessary use of resources, and protects the environment. In implementing this policy, each agency shall prioritize actions that reduce waste, cut costs, enhance the resilience of Federal infrastructure and operations, and enable more effective accomplishment of its mission.”

Although the new order requires agencies to track their efforts in lowering energy use, it does not require them to set goals to limit greenhouse gases.

Report Paints Picture of Sea-Level Rise Risks to National Park Service Sites

A new report from the National Park Service (NPS) projects the risk of climate change-related sea-level rise and storm surge for each of 118 NPS sites situated on or near U.S. coasts. Using datasets from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authors illustrate the potential for permanent coastal inundation and flooding under multiple greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Their research resulted in a collection of storm surge maps for each studied site.

According to those maps, the parks that will be hardest hit are along the southeast coastline. At risk for the highest sea-level rise is the NPS’s National Capital Region (Washington, D.C., area). At particular risk from storm surge are parks in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, within the Southeast Region.

“Human activities continue to release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm,” the report indicates. “Further warming of the atmosphere will cause sea levels to continue to rise, which will affect how we protect and manage our national parks.”

The authors highlight significant differences in how coastal areas in the vicinity of NPS sites will experience sea-level change—driven by factors such as variable ocean currents, coastal topography, and the influence of localized land elevation changes. Given those differences, the authors point to the need for site-specific information about local conditions that might influence sea-level rise and storm surge effects.

The final report makes multiple references to the role of humans in climate change. It became the subject of concern for science advocates and some in Congress after drafts obtained earlier this year by Reveal, the publication of The Center for Investigative Reporting, indicated that park service officials had removed those references.

China, NGOs Assess Paris Agreement Progress

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, could meet its pledge to cap carbon emissions ahead of its 2030 schedule, according to China’s chief negotiator on the Paris Agreement in late 2015. Xie Zhenhua said China has already met several objectives it promised to fulfill by 2020, including cutting its carbon intensity by 40 percent to 45 percent three years early.

The Paris Agreement 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. The deadline for completing the Paris Agreement’s “rule book” is the November climate summit in Katowice, Poland. The agreement itself goes live in 2020.

Ahead of the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties, a number of organizations and NGOs have assessed progress toward the Paris Agreement’s goals. NGO Mission 2020, in a new report, focuses on how to attain the 1.5 degree goal. It outlines six milestones it suggests are critical to enable global peaking of emissions by 2020, including cities and states implementing policies and regulations to fully decarbonize buildings and infrastructure by 2050 and investment in climate action that surpasses $1 trillion U.S. dollars per year.

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

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The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump on Friday tasked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to negotiate fuel economy standards with California officials.

Their orders are to “work with the industry and with the state of California on developing a single national standard so that domestic automakers do not have to comply with two different regulatory regimes,” said Helen Ferre, a White House spokesperson.

It is not at all clear, however, that California is interested in finding a compromise. California has vowed to stick to its own, stricter standards authorized under the Clean Air Act despite plans by the Trump administration to push back on fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards. On May 1, seventeen states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals over the EPA’s revisiting Obama-era vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards last month.

The Friday announcement came as automakers met with Trump to discuss a draft proposal developed by the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that The Hill reports would freeze fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels for five years. It’s a proposal with which the Trump administration may move forward, according to Reuters.

Study Points to Possible Policies to Preserve Nuclear Plants

Early nuclear plant closures in the United States will mean the loss of zero-carbon electricity, but a new report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) suggests state and federal policy options that could preserve existing nuclear power generation. The report finds that when they retire, nuclear reactors, which supply more than half of the country’s zero-emissions power, are being replaced by more carbon-intensive natural gas.

The report points to some operational and technological developments that might put nuclear plants on a firmer footing. First, electrification of other sectors of the economy could increase energy demand, easing pressure on larger and older energy plants like nuclear reactors. Second, midday nuclear power, which may not be needed when solar is available, could be stored as hydrogen and then used as fuel or feedstock. And third, nuclear plants that are paired with renewables could ramp up and down, following demand.

With federal policy to drive nuclear development in the near term unlikely, the report concludes that any long-term decarbonization strategy for the United States would entail policy support for both advanced nuclear and renewables.

“The nut we really want to crack is how renewables and nuclear can work together for each other’s mutual benefit,” tweeted report author Doug Vine, a C2ES senior energy fellow. “We need to have 80% reductions by 2050. We’re not going to get there if renewables and nuclear are fighting each other.”

To preserve the emissions benefits of nuclear energy, the report includes in its policy solutions

state-level policies such as expansion of state electricity portfolio standards to allow nuclear and renewables to work together on a level playing field to one another’s benefit as well as zero-emission credits, already being implemented in some states, to support distressed facilities. Other solutions offered by the report are license renewals by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would allow reactors to operate for 80 years; a “meaningful” price on carbon implemented in power markets; and increased pursuit by government agencies, cities and businesses of power purchase agreements, which give both buyers and sellers some certainty over a specified time period, for nuclear power.

DOE Plan Lays out Steps to Protect Grid from Cyber Threats

A new U.S. Department of Energy plan lays out steps to do more to protect the country’s energy systems and diminish energy interruptions due to the increasing scale, frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks.

“Energy cybersecurity is a national priority that demands the next wave of advanced technologies to create more secure and resilient systems needed for America’s future prosperity, vitality, and energy independence,” said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “The need to strengthen efforts to protect our critical energy infrastructure is why I am standing up the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). Through CESER and programs like CEDS, the Department can best pursue innovative cybersecurity solutions to the cyber threats facing our Nation.”

The five-year plan focuses on strengthening preparedness, coordinating responses, and developing the next generation of resilient energy systems in line with the creation of a cybersecurity office—announced earlier this year—to help carry out activities to protect the grid from attack.

The plan calls for research and development into equipment and technologies that would “make future systems and components cybersecurity-award and able to automatically prevent, detect, mitigate, and survive a cyber incident.”

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

For the first time in recorded history, Earth has sustained an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in excess of 410 parts per million—a symbolic red line in the methodical upward march of greenhouse gas concentrations. The April Keeling Curve measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory are 30 percent higher than the first Keeling Curve measurements, 315 parts per million, at the observatory in 1958, and 46 percent higher than concentrations recorded during the Industrial Revolution in 1880. They are the highest in the 800,000 years for which scientists have good data, thanks to paleoclimate records like tree rings and ice cores.

Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 Program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which monitors the readings and calculates the one-month averages, said the rate of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has been increasing faster in the last decade than in the 2000s.

“It’s another milestone in the upward increase in CO2 over time,” said Keeling, who is also the son of Charles David Keeling, creator of the Keeling Curve. “It’s up closer to some targets we don’t really want to get to, like getting over 450 or 500 ppm. That’s pretty much dangerous territory.”

Last year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate department reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2016 were at levels not seen on Earth for millions of years, when temperatures were 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and sea level was 50 to 80 feet higher than today.

Powelson Reflects on PJM Fuel Security Announcement, Defense Production Act

What are the primary drivers of change in the PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for a 13-state region? Technology and people. That was the message from air and energy regulators from states in the PJM electricity market at an event co-sponsored by the Great Plains Institute and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The event, keynoted by Robert Powelson of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), focused on change and the tensions revealed as different actors drive these changes or respond to their effects. Powelson reflected on PJM’s late April announcement that it will conduct a study to understand “fuel-supply risks in an environment trending towards greater reliance on natural gas.” PJM said it will conduct a three-phase analysis over several months to determine whether it can withstand a cyberattack on a natural gas delivery system or a prolonged cold snap.

Powelson cautioned that people should not read into PJM’s announcement that PJM may pay coal and nuclear generators to be backstops in the event of fuel delivery interruptions. “I think what PJM is saying is ‘we’re going to look at it and we’re going to do it in a market-based approach.’ There might be other technologies out there that have the same [fuel security] characteristics. It could be an oxidized fuel cell. It could be storage. It’s going to be a level playing field discussion. … It’s going to be done in a fuel-neutral, technology-neutral way.”

He called PJM’s capacity market proposal before FERC “a jump ball” aimed at neutralizing the effects of some state subsidies intended to prop up nuclear. PJM wants FERC to direct operators to update market compensation for power plants to reflect resilience attributes.

Powelson also touched on the U.S. Department of Energy plan to look into whether it can keep some struggling coal and nuclear plants operating by invoking the Defense Production Act—a 1950 law giving the president a broad range of power to require businesses to prioritize contracts for materials deemed vital to national security.

Invoking the act, Powelson said, “would lead to the unwinding of competitive markets in this country.”

Climate Talks Stall, U.N. Schedules Extra Sessions

As the latest round of Paris Agreement talks wind down May 10, delegates are marking their calendars for extra sessions to accomplish what they could not in Bonn, Germany, over the last two weeks: finalize the text of a rulebook for the agreement 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. On Monday, Executive Secretary of U.N. Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said producing a rulebook was impossible at the current conference.

“A single negotiating text. No,” said Espinosa. “That would really not be possible. It will all come together when it comes to the level of the COP [Conference of the Parties], of the conference in December.”

Given insufficient progress in Bonn, U.N. officials announced on Tuesday that they were adding a week-long session in Bangkok in September in order to meet the deadline for a rulebook at the main summit in Katowice, Poland, in December. Without that document, negotiators would have no basis for those talks.

Several issues stalled the Bonn negotiations. Most developed countries want to know how much climate funding they are committing to developing countries, which contributed the least to climate change but suffer its worst effects. They also want to understand how that funding will be adjusted to support countries’ progressive emissions reductions every five years. There is also pushback from developed countries on funding for climate impacts to which developing countries can no longer adapt.

At the Talanoa Dialogue, an international storytelling side event aimed at increasing global ambition to reduce climate change, State Department climate negotiator Kim Carnahan described President Donald Trump’s vision of a “balanced” global energy landscape and said the administration’s “position on the Paris Agreement remains unchanged,” a reference to Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. She maintained that the United States would ensure the viability of its nuclear power sector, currently its largest single source of no-carbon energy. Carnahan also noted the power sector carbon reductions that have accompanied increased natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing.

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.

California Sues over Emissions Rules

On May 3, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rollback of Obama-era vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards last month. In the lawsuit, those states and a few state offices write that the EPA “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in overturning the previous administration’s decision.

“This is about health, it’s about life and death,” said California Gov. Jerry Brown. “I’m going to fight it with everything I can.” The EPA had no comment on pending litigation.

The corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE standards, were set to roughly double from 2010 levels to about 50 miles per gallon. In early April, the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced plans to draft new standards for 2022–2025 with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At that time Pruitt said that “Obama’s EPA … made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”

Obama-era rules for 2022 to 2025 sought to bring average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg, or 36 mpg in the real world.

The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are now in the final stages of drafting and could release new rules as soon as June. The Washington Post reports that the new rules could freeze fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles starting in 2021 and challenge California’s ability to set its own fuel-efficiency rules. Presently, California is authorized under the Clean Air Act to set its own fuel standards.

Paris Agreement Revisited in Bonn

“Urgency, ambition, opportunity” are the three words that must define 2018 said Executive Secretary of U.N. Climate Change Patricia Espinosa on Monday in Bonn, Germany, at the opening of the latest round of talks to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement, which seeks 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.

“By the end of 2018 we have the opportunity to accomplish three important goals,” Espinosa said. “Those are: building on the pre-2020 agenda, which charts the efforts of nations up to the official beginning of the Paris deal; “unleash[ing] the potential” of the Paris deal by completing the operating manual; and building more ambition into countries national pledges.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement, which comes into effect in 2020, left a number of critical rules and procedures to address before the U.N. climate conference in Katowice, Poland, in December. The Bonn talks, which conclude May 10, are aimed not only at creating a “rule book” but also at getting governments to increase the ambition of their current national plans for greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

According to the latest UN Environment Programme emissions gap report, released November 2017, current commitments would allow warming to increase to dangerous levels above 3 degrees Celsius. That conclusion prompted Fiji—the current holder of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change presidency—to initiate at Bonn a sidelines process it calls the Talanoa Dialogue, referencing a Fijian tradition of storytelling to build empathy and collective decision making.

The process involves national negotiators meeting with academics, campaigners and lobbyists to exchange ideas. From more than 400 submissions for the discussions, some themes have emerged, among them, whether countries should aim to achieve the more ambitious of the Paris Agreements’ temperature goals—no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming—as small island states have urged and whether the governments of richer nations will substantially increase their financial support to poorer countries for climate change adaptation.

One of the issues at stake this week and for the rest of 2018 is how countries will be asked to demonstrate that they’ve delivered on their emissions reduction commitments. The Paris Agreement gives some poorer countries accounting and reporting flexibility in light of their comparatively weak capacity to track and inventory their emissions and actions. But which countries receive that flexibility, how it’s implemented and for how long remain undecided.

PJM to Look at Fuel Security

The PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for a 13-state region, says it will conduct a study to understand “fuel-supply risks in an environment trending towards greater reliance on natural gas.”

“We do not feel we have a vulnerability today, but will take a look at the system to see if we could have fuel security issues in the future,” said Andy Ott, president and CEO of PJM Interconnection. “We expect our analysis will result in a concrete set of criteria to value fuel security.”

PJM will conduct a three-phase analysis over the course of several months to determine whether it can withstand a cyberattack on a natural gas delivery system or a prolonged cold snap.

The issue is part of the “resiliency” question presently before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Regional grid operators filed comments in March on efforts to enhance the resilience of the bulk power system in a proceeding initiated by FERC after it rejected a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants. The comments by the nation’s federally overseen regional transmission organizations and independent system operators came in response to two dozen questions FERC asked about resilience. At the heart of many comments was a question about how FERC defines resilience.

Two of my colleagues at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions made a similar query in a thought piece published in Utility Dive. Whether resilience is “a stand-alone concept or just a component of the well-recognized concept of reliability,” they said it is a “foundational question”—one that spells the difference between new market and regulatory responses or tweaks to existing reliability mechanisms.

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

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next Thursday, April 26. It will return on Thursday, May 3.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state carbon cap-and-trade program, continues to help lower emissions of carbon dioxide and benefit local economies, according to a new study by the Analysis Group. The study estimates that RGGI states gained $1.4 billion in net economic value from program during 2015–2017.

“I think this provides evidence of the fact that you can design a carbon-control program in ways that really are avoiding a drag on the economy and, in fact, actually helping to put more dollars in consumers’ pockets,” said Sue Tierney, a senior advisor with the Analysis Group and a member of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Board of Advisors.

RGGI, the first market-based regulatory program in the United States, is a cooperative effort implemented through separate authorities in Maryland, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont to create a “cap” that sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector—a cap lowered over time to reduce emissions. Power plants must purchase credits or “emissions allowances,” either from the regulators at auction or from other entities that can over comply, but the entire pool of such allowances is limited to the cap.

The study suggests that carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the nine-state region have dropped by more than 50 percent since the program was launched in 2009. In the last three years, the program “has helped to lower the total amount of dollars member states send outside their region in the form of payments for fossil fuels by over $1 billion,” report authors write. “RGGI has lowered states’ total fossil-fired power production and their consumers’ use of natural gas and oil for heating.”

Brian Murray, a Nicholas Institute faculty affiliate and director of Duke University’s Energy Initiative, published a study in the journal Energy Economics in 2015 that had similar findings. It concluded that even when controlling for other factors—the natural gas boom, the recession, and environmental regulations—emissions would have been 24 percent higher in participating states without RGGI. 

Nuclear Plants’ Economic Woes Could Threaten Clean Energy Growth

An analysis released by think tank Third Way explores the effect of three potential levels of premature nuclear plant closures (20 percent, 60 percent and 80 percent) on carbon emissions in the U.S. power sector. It finds that much of the shuttered generation will likely be replaced by natural gas, increasing emissions. Even if the lost capacity was entirely replaced by renewables, the analysis finds that the U.S. would still suffer a setback in its clean energy growth.

Failure to prevent early retirements of nuclear plants, it says, could unwind years of climate progress achieved by the U.S. power sector and jeopardize the Obama-era goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 2005 levels by 2050.

Some 20 percent of U.S. electric power, and 60 percent of our zero-carbon electricity, comes from nuclear generation. Nearly half of U.S. nuclear plants are at or near the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives. These units have received 20-year license extensions, but starting around 2030 they will reach their 60-year limits. At this point, they must receive a second license extension or retire.

Nuclear power struggles to compete in an era of cheap natural gas and renewables. A few weeks ago, FirstEnergy announced that three nuclear plants will be prematurely deactivated by 2021. The utility asked for an order, under Section 202 of the Federal Power Act, to save them. On April 5, President Donald Trump said he would consider issuing just such an emergency order through the Department of Energy (DOE)—a move opposed by the American Petroleum Institute in a letter to the president, after the DOE opened an unofficial comment period on the matter last week.

If nuclear power is to be part of a U.S. climate change strategy over the next century, The Third Way argues that policymakers must address its increasingly precarious economics.

Their analysis concluded that more state-level policy efforts and expansion of zero-emissions credits programs could help curtail nuclear plant closures and incentivize growth in the clean energy source.

I recently wrote in The Conversation that extending federal tax credits to nuclear recognizes the societal benefits offered by that generation source and that without mechanisms for monetizing social benefits from carbon-free generation, new nuclear power plants are unlikely to be constructed. Such mechanisms could include a carbon tax to penalize high-carbon fuels and reward low-carbon and carbon-free sources and aggressive promotion of mature new nuclear reactor designs that could take up some demand currently met by retiring plants.

Emissions Standards Could Have Big Impact on California, Other States  

Earlier this month, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott Pruitt, announced that greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light duty trucks should be revised. Although he did not indicate how far the rules should roll back, only that the EPA would begin drafting new standards for 2022–2025 with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, he did call out California, which is authorized under the Clean Air Act to set its own fuel standards. The move could spark a legal battle between the EPA and California about standards.

Privately, officials from the Trump administration and California, along with representatives of major automakers, may be searching for a compromise, The New York Times reports. Although a lawsuit is under consideration, Mary Nichols, the chair of the California Air Resources Board, said Tuesday she sees hope for a deal with the Trump administration over fuel economy and emissions standards.

“Reason could prevail,” Nichols said at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Future of Energy Summit in New York. “There’s a way to get to success, unless your goal is to roll over California and not allow us to have any standards.”

She told the Detroit Free Press that “if there are ways to eliminate things that aren’t contributing to overall environmental performance, we’re absolutely open to talking about them.”

For California, and the other states with transportation sectors that emit at least twice as much carbon as power plants—Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Washington––what happens with the vehicle emissions standards could affect states’ overall greenhouse gas emissions targets, reports ClimateWire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Company Announces Decarbonization Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPA to Roll Back Car Pollution Standards

On April 5, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday announced that greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light duty trucks should be revised.

“The Obama Administration’s determination was wrong,” said Pruitt. “Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”

The EPA did not indicate how far the rules should be rolled back, only that it would begin drafting new standards for 2022–2025 with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which manages a parallel set of rules called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards.

The announcement follows an April 1 deadline requiring the EPA to reopen the standards or leave them alone—a review resulting from 2011 negotiations between the Obama administration and carmakers, which wanted an opportunity to reassess the standards. The standards presently require new cars and trucks to get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Pruitt’s announcement also called out California, which is authorized under the Clean Air Act to set its own fuel standards. California was part of the 2011 deal, agreeing to stand down on its authority in return for a more aggressive national standard. The Golden State together with a dozen other states that follow California’s rules, account for more than one-third of the vehicles sold in the U.S.

“It is in America’s best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard,” Pruitt said.

A joint statement by the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington and the mayors of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle denounced the EPA’s decision to weaken standards.

“This move sets us back from years of advancements by the automotive industry put in motion by states that took the lead in setting emission standards,” they wrote. “These standards have cleared the haze and smog from our cities and reversed decades of chronic air pollution problems, while putting more money in consumers’ pockets.”

California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols hinted that California would contest the EPA’s decision.

“California will not weaken its nationally accepted clean car standards, and automakers will continue to meet those higher standards, bringing better gas mileage and less pollution for everyone,” said Nichols. “This decision takes the U.S. auto industry backward, and we will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards and fight to preserve one national clean vehicle program.”

Hearings on Virginia Emissions Trading Rule End; Comment Period up Monday

A 90-day public comment period on Virginia’s draft regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants ends Monday. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) began developing the proposed rules after then Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order last year to assess the impact of climate change on the state.

The draft plan aims to cap emissions from the state’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and to reduce them 30 percent by 2030. It also establishes a carbon trading market that will link to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). If the plan is approved, Virginia would be the state with the largest carbon footprint affiliated with RGGI—a nine-state cap-and-trade program designed to reduce carbon emissions from electric power plants.

“Although Virginia would not be formally part of RGGI—it needs legislation for this—the state is forging a new path for other states interested in a similar linkage,” said Kate Konschnik, director of the Climate and Energy Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. “Virginia is designing a carbon program that meets its needs and links to a mature carbon market to ease utility compliance. This may be the wave of the future for RGGI.”

The last of six public hearings on the draft wrapped up last month. DEQ expects the final regulations to go before the state’s Air Pollution Control Board this summer.

Warming Waters Are Speeding Retreat of Glaciers, Raising Sea Levels

A satellite tracking study of Antarctica’s glaciers by researchers at the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds finds evidence of accelerated Antarctic deglaciation that could greatly increase global sea-level rise. Published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, the study shows that the warming waters of the Southern Ocean melted 565 square miles of Antarctica’s underwater ice between 2010 and 2016. It shows that the warming is moving “grounding lines”—the boundary where an ice sheet’s base leaves the sea floor and begins to float.

The researchers produced the first complete map of how the Antarctic ice sheet’s grounding lines are changing. They say grounding line retreat has been extreme at eight of the ice sheet’s 65 biggest glaciers. There the pace of deglaciation is five times the historical average of 25 meters per year since the last ice age.

Overall, the researchers found that 10.7 percent of Antarctic grounding lines were retreating at a rate faster than that average; only 1.9 percent of the lines were advancing faster than the average.

These new measurements suggest a pattern of melting in Antarctica that is contributing to global sea level rise, according to lead author Hannes Konrad from the University of Leeds.

“Our study provides clear evidence that retreat is happening across the ice sheet due to ocean melting at its base, and not just at the few spots that have been mapped before now,” said Konrad. “This retreat has had a huge impact on inland glaciers, because releasing them from the sea bed removes friction, causing them to speed up and contribute to global sea level rise.”

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.