The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Monday that it sent a proposed rule to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, a standard step before a proposal’s public release and comment.

The proposed rule would replace the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015 to regulate emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants by setting state-by-state reduction targets. Although not yet publicly released, early reports indicate the new rule will adopt a narrower assessment of the means available to reduce greenhouse gases and therefore will implement less aggressive emissions reduction targets.

In October 2017, the Trump administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that called for the Clean Power Plan to be repealed. In December 2017, EPA put out a notice asking the public to submit ideas for a replacement to the rule, which most agree the agency is obligated to produce. The Clean Air Act instructs the EPA to set “standards of performance for any existing source for any air pollutant,” and requires these standards to reflect “the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application of the best system of emission reduction.”

Since April 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has extended a temporary stay of the Clean Power Plan five times as the Trump administration contemplates a replacement.

The Monday nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy could influence how litigation over this rule plays out. Kennedy was often the deciding vote in environmental cases brought before the court, including the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA climate change lawsuit in 2007 that laid the legal groundwork for federal action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Kavanaugh voiced some skepticism that the EPA has the authority to limit greenhouse gases when his court heard oral arguments on the Clean Power Plan in 2016.

“Global warming isn’t a blank check” for the president to regulate carbon emissions,” he said during oral arguments. “I understand the frustration with Congress,” Kavanaugh added. But he said the rule, rather than Congress, was “fundamentally transforming an industry.”

Pruitt Resigns from the EPA

Scott Pruitt has resigned as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Andrew Wheeler, who was confirmed by the Senate as the deputy administrator of the EPA in April, will now serve as the agency’s acting administrator. Wheeler, largely identified by the press as a coal industry lobbyist, began his career as an EPA employee and then oversaw the agency for years as chief of staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for Chairman James Inhofe.

Pruitt left the EPA facing more than a dozen inquiries into his spending and self-dealing practices and amid debate over his revisitation of six pollution policies during his 17 months. He cited in his resignation letter that these “unrelenting attacks” had taken a toll.

“It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring,” Pruitt wrote.

What’s next is uncertain, but Wheeler has suggested that the EPA likely won’t change its priorities after Pruitt.

“If the environmentalists think [Trump is] going to make promises and we’re going to do the opposite, then there’s not a lot of common ground to work on,” said Wheeler. “I’m going to continue to move forward with those” priorities Pruitt laid out on behalf of Trump.

The Washington Post reported that although policy priorities are expected to remain the same, what may change is the way the EPA talks about deregulatory work.

Culturally, Wheeler also may bring change. In his opening speech with EPA employees, Wheeler reassured agency staff, saying “[t]o the employees, I want you to know that I will start with the presumption that you are performing our work as well as it can be done. My instinct will be to defend your work, and I will seek the facts from you before drawing conclusions.”

Study Finds Coal Bailout Proposal Could Increase Premature Deaths, Carbon Dioxide Emissions

A working paper released by the independent think tank Resources for the Future finds that if  President Donald Trump’s proposed bailout of coal-fired power plants goes into effect in 2019 and 2020 it could lead to the pollution-related deaths of 353 to 815 Americans. The paper indicates that each year the policy could cause 1 death for each 2 to 4.5 of the estimated total 790 coal-mine jobs estimated to be supported by the bailout.

According to the authors, delayed retirement of coal that have announced they will close by the end of 2020 could cause these deaths due to their additional sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. The paper’s modeling simulations show that over the two-year period the policy would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 22 million tons, or about the amount emitted by 4.3 million cars in a year. Applying the policy to nuclear generators would prevent only 24 to 53 premature deaths and 9 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the period.

The authors call these mortality estimates “conservative” in part because the number of plants prevented from retiring could be larger than the number modeled.

The assessment, which assumes that the Trump administration’s possible action would delay closure of some 3 percent of U.S. coal-fired generation capacity and 1 percent of U.S. nuclear capacity, is one of the first examinations of the evolving plan to prop up coal and nuclear power plants that are struggling to compete with power plants using cheap natural gas and renewable electricity.

That proposed bailout, outlined in a memo in May, would use a Cold War-era law to keep aging coal and nuclear plants from shuttering. On June 1, Trump ordered U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate action to keep those plants open.

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

Editor’s Note: The Nicholas Institute has enjoyed sharing the critical climate and energy stories of the week with our readers for almost a decade, but July 19 will be the last issue of The Climate Post. For us, this weekly post has been a way to help us fulfill one of our missions: to help the public understand topics that could shape the energy and climate landscape. We will continue to pursue that mission through the many products we continue to create to improve environmental policymaking through in-depth and objective, fact-based analysis.

We invite you to connect with important climate and energy topics through thought pieces by our staff, through our events, and through new research publications and policy briefs by signing up to receive future mailings about our work.

As part of the Paris Agreement—a global treaty that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius—China pledged to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. A new study in the journal Nature Geoscience suggests China’s emissions peaked in 2013 and have declined in each year from 2014 to 2016.

“The decline of Chinese emissions is structural and is likely to be sustained if the growing industrial and energy system transitions continue,” said Dabo Guan, a University of East Anglia climate change economics professor and lead author. “China has increasingly assumed a leadership role in climate-change mitigation.”

The study suggests that slowing economic growth and a decline in the share of coal used for energy has aided in the rapid decrease in China’s rising emissions. These changes in industrial activities and coal use, along with efficiency increases, have roots in the changing structure of China’s economy and in long-term government policies, in particular, creation of China’s nationwide emissions trading scheme.

The policy context and initial program design of that scheme is reviewed by my colleague, Billy Pizer, a faculty fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, in an article in the journal AEA Papers and Proceedings. It highlights important concerns, discusses possible modifications, and suggests topics for further research.

FERC Rejects PJM Capacity Market Proposals

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in a 3–2 decision, rejected two proposals filed by PJM as well as a proposal filed by a group of generators operating in PJM’s footprint about how the wholesale electric capacity market should handle state subsidies for power generation. FERC did, however, find that the PJM’s existing capacity market rules are unjust and unreasonable and outlined a framework for a new rule.

PJM, which oversees the grid in parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, operates a capacity market that allows utilities and other electricity suppliers to procure power to meet predicted demand three years into the future in order to ensure grid reliability. The grid operator and some power producers have argued that subsidized generators are entering into PJM’s capacity market at prices below their actual generation costs, lowering overall market prices and potentially forcing some competitors to shutter their operations.

The order rejects both of PJM’s proposals because FERC found that “they have not been shown to be just and reasonable, and not unduly discriminatory or preferential.” But FERC was “unable to determine, based on the record of either proceeding, the just and reasonable rate to replace the rate in PJM’s Tariff.”

FERC then proposed a framework for a replacement rule—resource offers that are deemed subsidized would be subject to an expanded Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) with few or no exceptions, so as not to artificially lower capacity prices. On the other hand, PJM would have to expand the ability for utilities to purchase less from PJM’s capacity market so they wouldn’t be forced to buy capacity to comply with state policies and then procure a duplicate amount of capacity from PJM’s market.

In PJM’s April filing to FERC, PJM asked FERC to decide between two proposals to deal with the issue of how to address potential pricing impacts of state energy programs in its capacity market and to identify which aspects of the proposals need to be revised. Generators subsequently filed a complaint at FERC, alleging that the PJM capacity rules violate the Federal Power Act and proposing their own solution. But in FERC’s order, filed late on June 29, FERC rejected PJM’s two-part capacity repricing scheme and revisions to the MOPR that aimed to bump up capacity offers into the market from new and existing resources receiving state assistance, subject to certain proposed exemptions. It also rejected the generators’ proposal for a MOPR for a “limited set of existing resources.”

PJM, its stakeholders, and other commenters now have to answer FERC’s questions about how to flesh out FERC’s proposed replacement rule framework. Initial comments are due within 60 days and reply comments are due within 90 days of the publication date of the FERC order in the Federal Register.

Study Zeroes in on Hard-to-Decarbonize Sources

About a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industrial sources come from hard-to-cut sources, according to a study published in the journal Science.

The authors focused on long-distance shipping and transportation, on cement and steel production, and on provision of a reliable electricity supply, that is, the need, given the variable nature of renewables, for climate-neutral ways to increase output when needed. The demand for these services and products is projected to increase over this century, the study said, allowing absolute emissions from them to grow to equal the current level of global emissions.

“If we want to get to a net zero energy system this century, we really need to be scaling up alternatives now,” said lead author Steven J. Davis of the University of California.

What are those alternatives? Some analyzed by the study are the synthesis of energy-dense hydrogen or ammonia-based fuels for aviation and shipping, new furnace technologies for concrete and steel manufacture, and tools to capture and store hydrocarbon emissions. But deploying these technologies will be costly, say the authors, who also point to another obstacle: the inertia of existing systems and 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

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Court Delays Clean Power Plan Again

On June 28, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: For nearly a decade, the Nicholas Institute has enjoyed sharing the critical climate and energy stories of the week with our readers. However, July 19 will be the last issue of The Climate Post. For us, this weekly post has been a way to help us fulfill one of our missions: to help the public understand topics that could shape the energy and climate landscape. We will continue to pursue that mission through the many products we create to improve environmental policymaking through in-depth and objective, fact-based analysis.

We invite you to connect with important climate and energy topics through thought pieces by our staff, through our events, and through new research publications and policy briefs by signing up to receive future mailings about our work.

Court Delays Clean Power Plan Again

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order placing litigation on the Clean Power Plan in abeyance for another 60 days. The court also rejected a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) request for indefinite suspension of the litigation and ordered the EPA to provide status updates every 30 days.

The Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015, seeks to regulate emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants. This is the fifth time since April 2017 that the court has issued a temporary stay of the plan—as the Trump administration eyes rolling back or replacing the rule.

Following the order, judges have come forward to say they would no longer vote to keep litigation on the Clean Power Plan on hold.

In the order, the judges—Wilkins, Tatel and Millett—express their reluctance to abide further delays. Judge Tatel, joined by Millett, wrote:

“ … I have reluctantly voted to continue holding this case in abeyance for now. Although I might well join my colleagues in disapproving any future abeyance requests, I write separately only to reiterate what I said nearly a year ago: that the untenable status quo derives in large part from petitioners’ and EPA’s treatment of the Supreme Court’s order staying implementation of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial resolution of petitioners’ legal challenges as indefinite license for the EPA to delay compliance with its obligation under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.”

Study: Methane Leaks from U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Higher Than Thought

A newly released study in the journal Science indicates that, the United States oil and gas industry emits fugitive emissions of methane at a rate of 13 million metric tons per year. The study suggests that methane, a powerful driver of global warming and the main ingredient in natural gas, is 60 percent higher each year than estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“This paper shows that the emissions of methane from the oil and gas industry are a lot higher than what is currently estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Ramón Alvarez, a study author from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). According to EDF, the researchers found that 2.3 percent of total production per year is leaked into the air. EPA estimates a 1.4 percent leak rate.

“The fact is that the magnitude of emissions are so large that it has a material impact on the climate impact of natural gas as a fossil fuel,” he said.

The authors suggest that the discrepancy owes to the way that the U.S. oil and gas industry measures and monitors methane emissions—at known intervals and at specific parts of equipment—without verification of the leak volume at a given facility as a whole. This methodology means that the industry does not count surprise leakage events, which the authors find are relatively common.

According to the study, methane leaks from natural gas facilities have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas. The authors suggest that the 13 million metric tons of methane emitted each year by U.S. oil and gas operations is equal to the climate impact of carbon dioxide emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants operating in 2015.

The study, which used infrared cameras and involved more than 400 well sites, suggests that methane leaks from operator errors and equipment failures, unless controlled, might lessen the effectiveness of switching to gas from coal as a climate strategy.

Ontario Plans Exit from Carbon Market

Doug Ford, Ontario’s incoming premier, plans to deliver on his campaign promise to scrap Ontario’s cap-and-trade scheme and leave the North American carbon trading program. Ford announced that he intends to block participants in California and Quebec from trading allowances with Ontario entities after he takes office June 29.

The withdrawal from the joint market would leave Ontario out of the next carbon allowance auction, scheduled for Aug. 14. The news has left California, which began holding joint auctions with Ontario and Quebec in February, exploring its options.

“Pulling them out in a formal way is actually going to take a regulatory change,” the head of California’s cap-and-trade program, Rajinder Sahota, said at a California Air Resources Board workshop. Ontario’s involvement in the program expanded the size of the market by about a quarter.

California said it may take steps in its current carbon market rulemaking package to address Ontario’s planned withdrawal.

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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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

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.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) first Global Energy and CO2 Status Report, released last week, had two major findings: preliminary estimates for 2017 suggest that global energy demand rose 2.1 percent—more than twice the previous year’s rate—and carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent, the first time they’ve increased in three years. Although emissions increased in most countries, they decreased in the United States and several other countries largely due to renewable energy deployments.

“The significant growth in global energy-related in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, who identified “a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency” as one of the causes.
That improvement in energy efficiency slowed from a rate of 2.3 percent a year over the last three years to 1.7 percent last year. Meanwhile, some 70 percent of 2017’s increased energy demand was met by fossil fuels. Emissions decreases in the United States, the U.K., Japan, and Mexico were insufficient to cancel out the increases in China and India.

According to the report, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions reached a historical high of 32.5 gigatons in 2017, and current efforts to curb them are insufficient to meet Paris Agreement targets to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Global emissions need to peak soon and decline steeply to 2020; this decline will now need to be even greater given the increase in emissions in 2017,” the report says.

Some of the report’s other findings:

  • Oil demand grew by 1.6 percent, more than twice the average annual rate over the past decade, driven by the transport sector and rising petrochemical demand.
  • Natural gas consumption grew 3 percent, the most of all fossil fuels, driven by China and the building and industry sectors.
  • Coal demand rose 1 percent, reversing declines over the previous two years, driven by an increase in coal-fired electricity generation, mostly in Asia.
  • Renewables had the highest growth rate of any fuel, meeting a quarter of world energy demand growth.
  • Electricity generation increased by 3.1 percent, much faster than overall energy demand, with India and China accounting for most of the growth.
  • Fossil fuels accounted for 81 percent of total energy demand, continuing a three-decades-long trend.

Decision on Tailpipe Emissions Standards Expected

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is up against an April 1 deadline to determine whether to loosen vehicle tailpipe emissions standards for the years 2022 to 2025, leave them unchanged, or increase them. Reports in the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets suggest the decision is likely to indicate that future vehicle emissions standards should be eased.

The rules, negotiated with the vehicle industry in 2011, presently require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

“The draft determination has been sent to OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and is undergoing interagency review,” said Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman. “A final determination will be signed by April 1, 2018, consistent with the original timeline.”

Unclear is how a decision to ease standards might affect California, which can set its own fuel standards and is authorized to do so under the Clean Air Act. The state has suggested it may withdraw from the nationwide program if the EPA eases regulations.

“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” said Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator, in an interview with Bloomberg. The state “shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.”

“We have not seen the document in question, and California had no input into its content,” said California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young. “We feel strongly that weakening the program will waste fuel, increase emissions and cost consumers more money. It’s not in the interest of the public or the industry.”

EPA Holds Final Clean Power Plan Hearing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrapped up public hearings concerning its repeal of the Clean Power Plan—an Obama-era regulation that sets state-by-state carbon emissions reduction targets for power plants—in Wyoming on Tuesday. All public comments on the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan are due April 26.

Dialogue in Tuesday’s hearing followed the trend of the EPA’s three other public hearings, with some arguing that the Clean Power Plan is needed to combat climate change and others questioning its effectiveness in achieving climate goals. One point of contention is how the costs and benefits of the rule were calculated. Opponents say the benefits were inflated and the costs were minimized. Supporters say the rule actually undercounts the additional benefits of reducing hazardous air pollutants.

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 the Trump administration 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.

Any replacement rule may be affected by the EPA’s plans to propose measures to limit which studies the EPA can use in pollution rules—measures that could potentially reduce calculation of the health benefits that come along with controlling carbon dioxide emissions.

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 new study suggests that premature deaths linked to air pollution would fall across the globe if nations agree to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels rather than postponing emissions cuts and allowing warming to reach 2 degrees Celsius. The research funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), led by scientists at Duke University, and published in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that targeting the more ambitious of the Paris Agreement’s two temperature goals—although more costly—could avoid 153 million premature deaths.

“The lowest-cost approach only looks at how much it will cost to transform the energy sector,” said lead author Drew Shindell of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “It ignores the human cost of more than 150 million lost lives, or the fact that slashing emissions in the near term will reduce long-term climate risk and avoid the need to rely on future carbon dioxide removal. That’s a very risky strategy, like buying something on credit and assuming you’ll someday have a big enough income to pay it all back.”

The study is the first to project the number of lives that could be saved, city by city, in 154 of the world’s largest urban areas if nations agree to speed up the emissions reductions timetable and limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The greatest gains in saved lives would occur in Asia and Africa. India’s Kolkata stands to benefit most—seeing 4.4 million fewer early deaths by 2100 by cutting carbon pollution.

The researchers ran computer simulations of future emissions of carbon dioxide and associated pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter under three scenarios: accelerated emissions reductions and almost no negative emissions over the remainder of the 21st century, slightly higher emissions in the near term but enough overall reductions to limit atmospheric warming to 2 degrees Celsius by century’s end, and near-term emissions reductions consistent with a level that would limit atmospheric warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The researchers then calculated the human health impacts of pollution exposure under each scenario using well-established epidemiological models based on decades of public health data on air-pollution-related deaths.

Groups Press FERC to Revisit Energy Storage Decision

In February, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) unanimously approved rules to remove barriers to batteries and other storage resources in U.S. power markets, a potential game-changer for integration of renewables onto the grid. Monday, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), and others filed separate requests asking FERC to reconsider this storage order. Some said that the proposal infringes on state authority.

“NARUC seeks clarification because the final rule specifies that states will not be allowed ‘to decide whether electric storage resources in their state that are located behind a retail meter or on the distribution system are permitted to participate in the [regional transmission organization/independent system operator] markets,’” the NARUC’s rehearing request said. “This statement should be deleted from the final rule.”

FERC oversees the regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) that run wholesale electricity markets. In doing so, FERC establishes market rules that “properly recognize the physical and operational characteristics of electric storage resources” in its February decision after finding in November 2016 that existing market rules created barriers to entry for those resources. Under the rules, grid operators can use technologies such as batteries and flywheel systems to dispatch power, to set energy prices, and to offer capacity and ancillary services.

Although FERC’s rule directs regional grid operators to set a minimum size requirement for energy storage resources to participate in their markets that doesn’t exceed 100 kilowatts, it deferred issues about aggregations of smaller distributed energy resources to a technical conference in early April. MISO asked for clarification regarding the minimum size of storage for wholesale market participation, bid parameters, and a six-month extension on the order’s deadlines.

Pruitt May Release Measures to Restrict Science Used in Regulations

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt may have plans to propose measures to limit exactly what data and studies the EPA can use in pollution rules. The idea would be to cease using scientific findings whose data and methodologies are not public or cannot be replicated.

Pruitt hinted at these intentions in a closed door meeting at the Heritage Foundation and in recent media interviews, saying “we need to make sure their [EPA] data and methodology are published as part of the record. Otherwise, it’s not transparent. It’s not objectively measured, and that’s important.”

Although formal plans have not been released, interviews indicate that Pruitt’s new rules would require EPA regulators to consider scientific studies that make the underlying data and methodology available to the public. The same rules would govern studies funded by the EPA. It is unclear whether the EPA would apply the directive to regulations now in place or only to new regulations. The former could affect several regulations at the EPA, including some wide-ranging air-quality regulations based on two studies from the 1990s that do not reveal their data.

Some critics, like Yogin Kothari of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, say the move could undermine environmental laws. “It’s just another way to prevent the EPA from using independent science to enforce some of our bedrock environmental laws, like the Clean Air Act,” said Kothari.

Steve Milloy, who served on Trump’s EPA transition team and attended the meeting at the Heritage Foundation, said Pruitt’s plan could come “sooner rather than later.”

A similar proposal was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2017 as the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act, which would prohibit the use of “secret science” at the EPA. It’s since been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

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.