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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2017, the Trump administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that called for the Clean Power Plan to be repealed.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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Court Delays Clean Power Plan Again

On June 28, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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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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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.

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.

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.

 

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump’s $4.4 trillion 2019 budget proposal, released Monday, echoed themes from the previous year’s budget priorities: steep cuts to domestic programs with large increases for defense. It outlines leaner budgets across federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Trump’s proposed budget, which was assembled before the Congress passed a two-year spending bill last week, calls for the EPA to operate with $5.4 billion ($6.15 billion after adjustments) beginning Oct. 1. That budget would be the EPA’s lowest since the early 1990s and about 25 percent below the 2017 mark of $8.1 billion.

The DOE would receive $30.6 billion, which is nearly 2 percent below its 2017 budget.

The proposal would also eliminate virtually all climate change-related programs at the EPA. In outlining the budget, the Trump administration said the EPA is refocusing on “core activities” and eliminating “lower priority programs,” including a program to promote partnerships with the private sector to tackle climate change.

The Trump administration said it wants to eliminate programs that are duplicative of those of other agencies or that it thinks state and local governments should assume—a proposal that appears to dovetail with the EPA’s strategic plan, also released Monday, that outlines a retrenchment around core issues like clean air, clean water, remediation of contaminated sites, and chemical safety. In place of program categories such as “clean air and global climate change,” Trump’s proposed budget allocates $112 million for a new line item called “core mission” and $357 million for “rule of law and process.”

Like climate-related programs at the EPA, DOE’s renewable energy programs are targeted for reductions in the proposal. According to numbers released by DOE, energy and related programs would receive $2.5 billion under the proposed 2019 budget, a drop of $1.9 billion from the 2017 budget. The Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would take a 65 percent cut. By contrast, the Office of Fossil Energy would get a 20 percent funding increase.

Unlike Trump’s budget proposal, the bipartisan two-year budget deal passed last week appears to include government funding for climate-related programs. It gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers money to study weather patterns and to prepare for the consequences of disasters, and it preserves tax incentives for renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and energy efficiency programs.

Under the bipartisan deal, nondefense discretionary spending gets a $63 billion boost in fiscal year 2018 and another $68 billion in fiscal year 2019. Almost all research agencies, including the EPA, fall under this nondefense category. It’s still unclear how any funds will be divided among individual agencies and programs. Details of who gets what in the 2018 budget will come as Congress works on an omnibus appropriations bill, expected in late March.

Methane Emissions Regulation Revised

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will replace most of the requirements of a 2016 Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands. The Monday proposal came after a previous announcement that the BLM would delay implementing the Obama-era rule until January 2019.

The rule forced energy companies to capture methane that’s vented to the atmosphere or burned off (“flared”) at drilling sites because it pollutes the environment. Many companies consider the rule unnecessary and overly intrusive, but many environmental groups warn that methane emissions from oil and gas operations are the second largest industrial contributor to climate change in the United States.

The new BLM proposal removes at least seven elements introduced under Obama’s rule, including creation of waste minimization plans by companies and standards for well completion. In announcing the changes to the rule, the BLM said that many of the former requirements were duplicative of state laws or had a higher cost or lower benefit than previously estimated.

The BLM is expected to publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register, opening it up for 60 days of public comment before issuing a final rule could be issued.

But even as the Trump administration is retreating from regulating methane leaks, new research published in the journal Climate Policy suggests it is still possible to make progress on reducing methane emissions by using a proposed North American Methane Reduction framework to direct research and to enhance monitoring and evaluate mitigation efforts.

This study, penned by my Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions colleague Kate Konschnik, suggests that state and provincial governments, industry, and nongovernmental organizations can use the framework to coordinate regulations, voluntary industry actions, and scientific developments in methane estimation and mitigation, thereby bridging the divide between science and policy and driving new research that in turn can support better policies when governments are ready to act.

California Adopts Emissions Standards for Trucks

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously to adopt emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks starting with the 2020 model year, departing from federal rules in two sectors. The state not only approved its own version of federal regulations covering truck trailers, but it is also making plans to conduct its own enforcement.

The state has special authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to make its own pollution and greenhouse gas rules for “mobile sources” such as cars and trucks. Some are concerned that the Trump administration may attempt to unravel the state’s authority to set pollution standards that are higher than federal rules.

Comments made by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee leave open that possibility.

“Federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the country,” Pruitt said, noting that “we recognize California’s special status in the statute and we are working with them to find consensus around these issues.”

CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols pointed to a 2013 waiver for California to implement its own, tougher tailpipe standards.

“The EPA would have to take unprecedented legal action to try to revoke that waiver,” she said. “Our best legal judgment is that that can’t be done.”

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

The five members of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday unanimously rejected a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the Department of Energy (DOE) to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in the electricity markets FERC oversees (subscription). Instead it opened a new proceeding in which it calls on regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) to submit information to FERC on certain resilience issues and concerns within 60 days (subscription).

Since Sept. 28, when DOE Secretary Rick Perry proposed mandating that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid, a broad array of power sector stakeholders have raised concerns about the legality and vagueness of the proposed rulemaking and the short timetable to implement it.

In voting against the DOE proposal, FERC found that neither the proposal nor comments on it revealed a problem with existing market rules.

“While some commenters allege grid resilience or reliability issues due to potential retirements of particular resources, we find that these assertions do not demonstrate the unjustness or unreasonableness of the existing RTO/ISO tariffs,” FERC wrote. “In addition, the extensive comments submitted by the RTOs/ISOs do not point to any past or planned generator retirements that may be a threat to grid resilience.”

FERC went on to note that even the DOE’s own grid reliability study, cited to justify the DOE proposal, “concluded that changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

FERC’s Jan. 8 order means electric grid operators must answer questions from the commission about how they define resilience, what they do to ensure it and how they evaluate threats to it.

Although FERC could issue a new order after receiving that information, The Washington Post suggests that the language in the current order would support the trend toward free competitive electricity markets.

One issue not raised in the debate, which centered on market concerns, was changes to the electric system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Researchers at Resources for the Future projected significant emissions increases and negative effects on social welfare had the DOE Notice of Proposed Rulemaking gone forward.

Trump Administration Unveils Plan to Vastly Increase Oil Drilling Off U.S. Shores

The Trump administration revealed a draft plan that would greatly expand oil drilling to areas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans that were previously protected.

“This is a start on looking at American energy dominance,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, adding that the proposal would make the United States “the strongest energy superpower” (subscription).

Previous administrations had largely limited offshore oil and gas production to the Gulf of Mexico, but Zinke’s proposal would make more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf open for leasing. His proposal includes 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024 in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas. Among them: 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 in the Atlantic, and 7 in the Pacific (some off the coast of California).

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” Zinke said (subscription). “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which would oversee the leasing process, will hold a 60-day public comment period on the plan.

Although embraced by oil and gas industry groups, the proposed plan is expected to face opposition from governors of many coastal states and many U.S. lawmakers.

On Tuesday, a group of 37 senators called the proposal “the height of irresponsibility” (subscription).

“This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry,” the senators wrote in a letter to Zinke.

The proposal follows an April 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump requiring that the Interior Department reconsider former President Barack Obama’s five-year offshore drilling plan.

If finalized, the proposal would reverse Obama’s ban on drilling on the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic, but, in addition to Florida waters which Zinke this week closed to drilling, it would keep off-limits the waters near Alaska’s far-western Aleutian Islands, which were protected by former President George W. Bush.

People’s Hearings on Clean Power Plan Begin

Several “people’s hearings” planned by states to discuss the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) repeal of the clean Power Plan took place in New York, Maryland and Delaware this week. Proposed to be repealed in October, the rule aimed to set state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants.

The hearings follow an announcement last month by the EPA that it will hold three more hearings on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan—in California, Wyoming and Missouri—after criticism for not conducting a transparent review process and previously holding only one public hearing over two days in Charleston, West Virginia.

Transcripts and comments associated with the hearings will be sent to the EPA as part of its rulemaking—EPA is presently taking input on what should replace the rule. In an interview with Reuters, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt listed replacement of the Clean Power Plan as one of his top 2018 priorities—alongside plans to greatly reduce EPA staff and rewrite the Waters of the United States rule.

“A proposed rule will come out this year and then a final rule will come out sometime this year,” Pruitt said of the Clean Power Plan’s replacement.

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.