The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China, NGOs Assess Paris Agreement Progress

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

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The deadline for completing the Paris Agreement’s “rule book” is the November climate summit in Katowice, Poland. The agreement itself goes live in 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study Points to Possible Policies to Preserve Nuclear Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOE Plan Lays out Steps to Protect Grid from Cyber Threats

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

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

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

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

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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

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

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

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

Powelson Reflects on PJM Fuel Security Announcement, Defense Production Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Talks Stall, U.N. Schedules Extra Sessions

As the latest round of Paris Agreement talks wind down May 10, delegates are marking their calendars for extra sessions to accomplish what they could not in Bonn, Germany, over the last two weeks: finalize the text of a rulebook for the agreement that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. On Monday, Executive Secretary of U.N. Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said producing a rulebook was impossible at the current conference.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Regional Grid Operators Weigh in on Resilience

On March 15, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Regional grid operators filed comments on efforts to enhance the resilience of the bulk power system in a proceeding initiated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) after rejecting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 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 (ISOs) came in response to two dozen questions FERC asked about resilience.

The message of operators to FERC: allow them time to develop additional resilience measures and respect their existing efforts aimed at ensuring that grids can cope with man-made and natural disasters that pose a risk of electricity service disruption. None of the operators suggested that resilience requires preservation of uneconomical power plants. All appeared to be open to, in the words of the New York ISO, “additional dialogue regarding concepts for market-based resilience services and practices.”

Nevertheless, the PJM Interconnection filing departed from the other operator filings. In essence, PJM wants FERC to direct operators to update market compensation for power plants to reflect resilience attributes. The request comes amid concerns that PJM’s resilience filing and ongoing price reforms could basically have the same effect as the DOE subsidy proposal rejected by FERC in January—a proposal that would have benefited coal and nuclear generators.

Those concerns were echoed in a “joint statement on power market principles,” released last week by U.S. public power and rural electric co-ops, state utility advocates, wind and solar energy groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Council on Renewable Energy. The group asked FERC to apply technology-neutral and market-based solutions to the resilience docket.

The Perry proposal and the FERC proceeding it inspired are likely to lead to some kind of change. Last week at CERAWeek in Houston, FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre said the lack of compensation to power plants for resilience contributions would be of concern to FERC and a particularly complicated element of the proceeding. He also said that “only hypothetically is nothing an option. I will be very surprised if we go through all that process and take no action.”

At the heart of that action could be how FERC defines resilience. In its filing, the California ISO questioned FERC’s working definition of resilience. It wrote that FERC’s reliance order “does not address any potential overlap between resilience and reliability, clearly articulate the differences between the two, state why a new, wholly separate concept is needed, or indicate what specific requirements a resilient system must meet.”

Two of my colleagues at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions made a similar point last month, noting that whether resilience is “a stand-alone concept or just a component of the well-recognized concept of reliability” is a “foundational question”—one that spells the difference between new market and regulatory responses or tweaks to existing reliability mechanisms. They conclude that “A well-functioning market that clearly defines and values the attributes needed for grid reliability and resilience—in a fuel-neutral, technology-neutral fashion—will comply with the law and support both concepts.”

China Unveils Environmental Restructuring Plan

A draft plan, introduced Tuesday, reorganizes China’s government into a State Council composed of 26 ministries and commissions. Compared with the current setup, the number of ministerial-level entities is reduced by eight and that of vice-ministerial-level entities by seven.

One of the changes is renaming the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The new Ministry of Ecological Environment would take over responsibility for climate change policy and become the only entity in charge of policies related to climate change, water resource management, and pollution.

“China’s decision to create a new environment ministry in China, which includes the country’s climate change agenda, is a big shake up in the country but may well be a positive long-term development,” said Jackson Ewing, senior fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and adjunct associate professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy. “Although the practical impacts of China’s reorganization are not yet apparent, the Ministry for Ecological Environment appears poised to carry a strong mandate to strengthen the country’s air, water, soil and ecological focus.”

Tonny Xie, director of the Secretariat for the Clean Air Alliance of China noted that the change is “ … also a sign that China will continue the unprecedented commitment and investment to improve environmental quality in future, which will generate significant market potential for clean technologies.”

The plan, submitted by the government to parliament is expected to be approved this weekend after deliberations by the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.

China, the world’s largest polluter, is in the midst of launching a nationwide emissions trading system to set emissions quotas for companies in the power sector. Announced in December, the program could more than double the volume of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions covered by tax or tradable permit policy.

Trump Fires Tillerson, Nominates New Secretary of State

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the exit of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the nomination of Mike Pompeo, the present director of the CIA, to replace him.

“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump said. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK … So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.”

Tillerson stood as a lonely voice in the Trump administration urging the president not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a global treaty that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But Trump announced last year that the United States would be the only nation in the world not party to the agreement, though it cannot formally withdraw until 2020.

As a former Congressman, Pompeo described the new 2015 Paris Agreement as a “costly burden” to the United States. He noted then that “Congress must also do all in our power to fight against this damaging climate change proposal and pursue policies that support American energy, create new jobs and power our economy.”

Pompeo will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing in April, but his path to confirmation is uncertain.

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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On Monday, President Donald Trump said “we’re not backing down” on his intent to propose steel and aluminum tariffs that some legislators and analysts worry could have a negative effect on the U.S. energy industry and undercut the president’s goal of “energy dominance.”

Trump shared his desire for the tariffs—25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports—last week. On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that countries may be exempted on a “case-by-case basis” from the tariffs and that the president will make an announcement on the tariff issue by the week’s end.

Energy industry groups say that the plan to put a 25 percent tariff on overseas steel could a have a detrimental impact on the U.S. oil and gas industry and could be a double blow for the solar power industry, which is navigating new solar tariffs that went into effect last month. The groups contend that the steel tariff would raise costs for oil and gas pipelines and for solar power arrays, which would also face increased costs from Trump’s anticipated tariff on aluminum imports.

The 25 percent steel tariff could add as much as 2 cents a watt to the cost of a utility-scale solar project, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Additional price increases on steel and on aluminum, which are used in ground-mount and rooftop solar racking systems, could slow U.S. solar deployments already decreased by the solar tariff.

In the oil and gas industry, the 25 percent steel tariff could have an impact on pipelines. A study commissioned by oil and gas groups and released last year showed that a 25 percent price hike means an additional $76 million in costs for a traditional 280-mile pipeline and more than $300 million for a major project like the Keystone XL or Dakota Access pipelines.

Rules Governing Pollution from Oil and Gas Operations Under Microscope

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced amendments to two provisions of the New Source Performance Standards for the oil and natural gas industry. The 2016 standards aim to reduce the amount of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas drilling.

One of EPA’s amendments would require that oil and gas operators repair leaking components during unplanned or emergency shutdowns and would impose monitoring requirements for wells on Alaska’s North Slope.

EPA said the changes were necessary because under the current requirements, repairs conducted during unscheduled or emergency shutdowns “could lead to unintended negative consequences both at well sites and compressor stations, including emissions that are higher than emissions that would occur if the leaks were repaired during a scheduled shutdown.”

The changes “provide regulatory certainty to one of the largest sectors of the American economy and avoid unnecessary compliance costs to both covered entities and the states,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum, noting that the amendments are expected to save electric utilities $100 million per year in compliance costs and that they could help oil and gas operators reap $16 million in benefits by 2035.

Environmental advocates, meanwhile, expressed concerns that the changes could lead to dirtier air and water and reduce or remove consequences for large-scale polluters.

As Bloomberg Gets UN Climate Envoy Job, Study Pushes Emissions Trading

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was named U.N. special envoy for climate action on Monday. In his new role, Bloomberg will support a 2019 U.N. Climate Summit and mobilize more ambitious action to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, which 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.

“Around the world, bottom-up solutions are leading the fight against climate change,” Bloomberg said in a Twitter post. “As the new @UN Special Envoy for Climate Action, I’ll work with state and non-state actors to help implement policies that reduce emissions & build resilience.”

Three researchers wrote in the journal Science that allowing countries to satisfy their climate commitments by trading credits could bring down implementation costs.

“Linkage is important, in part, because it can reduce the costs of achieving a given emissions-reduction objective,” the authors write. “Lower costs, in turn, may contribute politically to embracing more ambitious objectives. In a world where the marginal cost of abatement (that is, the cost to reduce an additional ton of emissions) varies widely, linkage improves overall cost-effectiveness by allowing jurisdictions to finance reductions in other jurisdictions with relatively lower costs while allowing the former jurisdictions to count the emission reductions toward targets set in their NDCs [nationally determined contributions].”

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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As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress gave a boost to carbon capture—a method for diverting emissions from crude production and coal- and gas-fired power plants—through the so-called 45Q tax credit. For every qualifying project, the boosted 45Q doubles a pre-existing tax credit to $50 per ton of carbon dioxide buried in underground storage and to $35 per ton that is used in a consumer product or to stimulate oil recovery.

“The act also expands the ‘EOR’ [enhanced oil recovery] credit to carbon oxides used for other industrial purposes, changes the definition of the entities to whom the credit applies, and sets capture thresholds for small facilities, electric generating facilities, and direct air capture facilities,” write Frederick R. Eames and David S. Lowman Jr. in Lexology.

Many see the potential for this credit to spur a renewed look at projects with carbon capture and storage and re-enliven policies around it.

“Now, with [the tax credit], the economics are looking very attractive,” said Roger Ballentine, a consultant and board member of 8 Rivers Capital, which is financing NET Power, a carbon capture project near Houston. “People are asking, should I do this. Before, those conversations weren’t even happening. Any major project like this will be a challenge. But the business case gets that much better with [the tax credit]. Once there is a business case, that’s why they happen.”

The nudge from the tax credit could help the technology to be more profitable.

“The reality of any technology development, particularly in the energy space, is it’s very difficult to move technologies into the marketplace without some sort of push,” said Walker Dimmig, spokesperson for NET Power. “The energy marketplace is incredibly competitive.”

Court Orders Enforcement of Methane Leak Rule

Last week, U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to delay an Obama-era Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule that sought to reduce venting, flaring and leakage of methane gas on public and tribal lands. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that BLM did not justify its decision to delay core provisions of its 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule by one year.

“The BLM’s reasoning behind the Suspension Rule is untethered to evidence contradicting the reasons for implementing the Waste Prevention Rule, and so plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits,” Orrick wrote. “They have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts.”

In the lawsuit brought by environmental groups and two states—California and New Mexico—Orrick also denied a request to move the case to Wyoming where a similar case is pending.

The ruling was only on the BLM’s proposed one-year delay. It does not directly affect the BLM’s proposed repeal of several methane rule provisions announced earlier this month. That proposal removes at least seven elements introduced under Obama’s rule, including creation of waste minimization plans by companies and emissions reduction standards for well completion.

In announcing the changes to that portion of 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. Once the BLM proposed repeal is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period will begin.

Reports Indicate Growth in Renewables in Cities

Worldwide, 101 cities are getting at least 70 percent of their total electricity supply from renewable energy—more than double the number since the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement according to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which tracks climate-related commitments by corporations and governments.

The London-based Carbon Disclosure Project attributes the increase to the growing number of cities reporting to it (currently 570) and to a global shift to renewable energy. It reports that cities are investing $2.3 billion in 150 clean energy development projects and $52 billion in low-carbon urban infrastructure projects such as energy efficiency upgrades, electric transport networks and smart city programs.

“Cities are responsible for 70 percent of energy-related CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions and there is immense potential for them to lead on building a sustainable economy,” said Kyra Appleby, director of cities at the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Notably, more than 40 of the cities identified in the report are powered entirely by renewables, including Burlington, Vermont, which gets its electricity from wind, solar, hydro and biomass. Although only a few of the 100-plus U.S. cities that report their energy mix to the project have achieved 70 percent or greater renewables generation, another 58 U.S. cities, including Atlanta and San Diego, are planning to hit the 100 percent renewables target within 20 years.

Meanwhile, two new studies shed light on renewables potential and actual deployment in the United States.

In one, scientists at the University of California at Irvine, the California Institute of Technology, and the Carnegie Institution for Science revealed that the country could reliably meet about 80 percent of its electricity demand with solar and wind power generation “by building either a continental-scale transmission network or facilities that could store 12 hours’ worth of the nation’s electricity demand.” Both options would entail huge—but not inconceivable—investments, they said.

A study by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy revealed that solar deployment is growing in some southern states, including North Carolina, where the solar market, one of the nation’s largest, is driven by favorable implementation of federal laws requiring renewable energy procurement, a state tax credit, and a renewable energy mandate. South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia are also emerging as significant state markets.

Globally, falling costs are playing a role in renewables uptake. According to data released by the World Economic Forum, unsubsidized renewables were the cheapest source of electricity in 30 countries in 2017, and they are expected to be consistently more cost effective than fossil fuels globally by 2020.

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

In his first State of the Union speech, the words climate and energy barely received a mention from President Donald Trump. What he did say about energy boiled down to only a few sentences.

“We have ended the war on American energy—and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” Trump said. “We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”

It was a statement that New York Times reporters labeled as “misleading” because overall the United States is a net energy importer, although it is projected to be a net energy exporter sometime in the 2020s.

Hints at Trump’s energy priorities were folded into comments about regulatory strategy, with Trump offering that “in our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” The rollbacks include rescission of hydraulic fracturing standards introduced under former President Barack Obama.

The State of the Union speech follows a Sunday interview with British TV personality Piers Morgan in which the president questioned climate science and said the United States could join the Paris Agreement, from which he announced the country’s exit last summer, if it had a “completely different deal” but called the existing agreement a “terrible deal” and a “disaster” for the United States.

State-Level Executive Order, Federal Legislation Focus on Emissions Trading

With an executive order on Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy began the process for New Jersey to re-enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nine-state cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions from electric power plants that former Gov. Chris Christy exited in 2011.

“Leaving RGGI, as it is called by most, made us an outlier in our own neighborhood,” Murphy said. “It signaled a retreat from a comprehensive and collaborative effort to curb the carbon emissions that contributed to climate change.”

The executive order requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) commissioner and the Board of Public Utilities president to immediately begin negotiations with RGGI member states. The DEP also must—within 30 days—create a framework for allocating RGGI funds.

RGGI, the first market-based regulatory program in the United States, is a cooperative effort among states 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 that can’t stay under the cap must purchase credits or “emissions allowances” from others that can. Proceeds from the program are used to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects throughout the member states.

In announcing the move to rejoin RGGI, Murphy estimated that New Jersey had lost $279 million in RGGI auction revenue and suggested that re-entry would create jobs by restoring the state as a leader in the green economy.

“Rejoining RGGI is about much more than cutting emissions and strengthening our defense against climate change, he said. “It’s about investing in our future.”

Virginia is presently considering linking with the program that presently partners Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Draft regulations that aim to cap emissions from the state’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and to reduce them 30 percent by 2030 were announced in November.

Also on Monday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Don Beyer introduced the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act. The cap and dividend bill aims to address climate change by gradually reducing carbon emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels through emissions permit auctions held for sellers of oil, coal, and natural gas into the U.S. market. Dividends would be returned to U.S. taxpayers quarterly.

“This legislation puts a price on carbon pollution and returns the proceeds directly to the American people at the same time it accelerates the growth of good paying jobs in clean technologies,” Van Hollen said in a press release.

Study: Offsetting America’s Carbon Footprint through Agriculture

There is general agreement that the technical potential for sequestration of carbon in soil is significant, and some consensus on the magnitude of that potential. A new study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that the world’s farmland soils have the technical potential to offset as much carbon as the United States emits, if lands are managed better. That could mean agriculture’s sequestration potential represents a viable pathway to achieving the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Though some models suggest that farms have the capacity to absorb as much as the carbon equivalent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions annually—roughly 36 gigatons—agricultural land currently absorbs about 0.03 gigatons. The Washington Post highlights this so called “carbon farming,” a reference to farmland that’s not a source of carbon but rather a sink, in a feature on the politics of sustainable agriculture and describes efforts to account for agriculture emissions in a scientifically valid way.

By estimating the potential amount of sequestered carbon in different scenarios, the study in Scientific Reports aims to open up discussion of the agricultural sector’s carbon mitigation potential, which received short shrift in the Paris Agreement but is beginning to garner some thought.

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

Trump Administration Issues Solar Import Tariff

On January 25, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Trump administration announced Monday that it will begin imposing a 30 percent tariff on solar cells and modules imported into the United States. The tariff will decline annually over a four-year period—reaching 15 percent in year four—and the first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells will be exempt from the safeguard tariff in each of those four years.

The U.S. has the world’s fourth-largest solar capacity after China, Japan and Germany. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said the tariff, which is opposed by most of the renewable energy industry, is necessary to prevent unfair practices by overseas manufacturers, mainly in Asia.

“From 2012 to 2016, the volume of solar generation capacity installed annually in the United States more than tripled, spurred on by artificially low-priced solar cells and modules from China,” the USTR said in a fact sheet announcing the Trump administration’s decision. “China’s industrial planning has included a focus on increasing Chinese capacity and production of solar cells and modules, using state incentives, subsidies, and tariffs to dominate the global supply chain.”

The tariff comes in response to petitions from two American manufacturers who complained for years that rising imports were eating into their sales. The International Trade Commission (ITC), in September, voted in favor of imposing a tariff. Monday’s announcement is similar to one recommended by the ITC late last year.

More than 80 percent of U.S. solar installations use imported panels, many of which come from China. However, China is not the only country that could be affected by the decision. Countries like South Korea now account for many of U.S. solar imports, which means they could face job losses and other hardships as a result of the tariffs.

Although imposing tariffs could create as many as 6,400 solar manufacturing positions, overall industry job losses could exceed those gains, an independent analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance performed for Utility Dive found. The Solar Energy Industries Association said 23,000 jobs would be lost in 2018, noting that most solar manufacturing in the U.S. involves making parts for cheaper imported panels.

Homeowner installation costs are expected to go up about 4 percent and utility-scale installation costs could go up about 10 percent, according to ClearView Energy Partners.

Before the tariff announcement, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that total U.S. small-scale solar capacity was 16 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2017 and projected it to grow to 19 GW by the end of 2018. It estimated that U.S. large-scale solar capacity totaled 27 GW at the end of 2017 and projected it to rise to 30 GW by the end of 2018.

Studies Examine Continuing Warming Trend

According to an analysis released last week by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 2017 was the second warmest year in 123 years of record-keeping. Using a different methodology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had earlier put 2017 as the third warmest year. In either case, it was the 21st consecutive year in which the annual average temperature exceeded the 20th century average of 13.9 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit) and the third consecutive year that every state across the contiguous U.S. and Alaska experienced above-average annual temperatures. Notably, it was also the warmest year on record without the warming influence of El Niño, which contributed to the heat of the warmest year, 2016.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said there’s little doubt about the source of the multi-decadal warming.

“Basically all of the warming in the last 60 years is attributable to human activities, and carbon dioxide emissions are the No. 1 component of that,” Schmidt said.

According to NOAA’s annual global climate report, worldwide, temperatures in 2017 were 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th century average, and ocean temperatures experienced their third-warmest year on record.

In Poll, Mayors Acknowledge Threat of Climate Change

Two-thirds of mayors said that cities should take action on climate change, even if doing so requires financial costs, according to an annual poll by Boston University.

“As the widening wealth gap, rising cost of housing and other economic challenges dominate the discourse in Washington, D.C. and across the country, the 2017 Menino Survey of Mayors provides invaluable insights into some of the most complex issues facing our nation’s mayors,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director of Citi Community Development and Inclusive Finance. “This year’s survey confirms yet again that our nation’s mayors are leading the way—prioritizing issues within and beyond their municipal borders, such as affordable housing and climate change, with innovative approaches that affect positive change for their constituents.”

Those polled cited a range of top climate and sustainability issues, including reducing the number of vehicles on the road (36 percent), upgrading city buildings and vehicles (31 percent), and sourcing greener energy (27 percent). Increasing residential density and updating building codes were also considered integral parts of any serious effort to address climate change, but when it came to the private sector, respondents pushed back on the need to institute new costly regulations.

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.