Senate Clears Way for Keystone XL Pipeline

June 19, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next week. It will return July 3.

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12 to 10 on a bill Wednesday approving the long-debated Keystone XL oil pipeline. The pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, requires presidential approval as it crosses international boundaries. Without a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring it to a vote by the full Senate, the bill is likely to languish.

Even so, Forbes deemed the vote “more than symbolic,” saying “It serves to tell the truth about Keystone XL, the need for new pipelines in this country, and for making our future energy security our top priority.”

Others, like Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Anthony Swift, disagreed. “This latest vote on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all about politics and bad policy,” he said. “Locking ourselves into a massive infrastructure to move the dirtiest oil on the planet for the next 50 years would greatly worsen carbon pollution—at a time when we’re facing growing and grievous costs wrought by climate change.”

Another Canadian pipeline did get the official green light—the Northern Gateway project. Just as controversial as Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to British Columbia, where it would be loaded on supertankers for shipment to Asia through sensitive waters in the Pacific’s shipping lanes. Before construction can begin on the Northern Gateway pipeline, Enbridge must meet about 100 conditions imposed by the regulator. Inside Climate News focuses on the “eerie” parallels between the debates on each pipeline project.

As the United States Grapples with EPA Rule, Japan Considers Carbon Trading

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants has made it into the pages of the Federal Register, an event marking the start of a 120-day comment period.

In the weeks since the rule’s release, there has been closer examination of how states can meet emissions standards cost effectively. Some say energy efficiency is the answer. Another potential solution: wind and solar. In an op-ed in The Hill, representatives of the American Wind Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association point to the technologies’ cost decreases and significant carbon reduction benefits. Others like Ed Throop, director for the Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities, are not so convinced. “The wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine all the time,” he said. It’s good, clean energy, but it’s not what you’d call baseload energy. You can’t call on it anytime you need it.”  

Japan has its own strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to unnamed government sources, the country may have plans to agree to a carbon deal with India. Japanese companies would install carbon-cutting technology in India and in return receive carbon credits that can be used to offset their country’s emissions under the joint crediting mechanism. So far, Japan has signed agreements with 11 countries to launch the joint crediting mechanism. Several news outlets reported the likelihood of a bilateral agreement in early July during annual talks by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ocean Sanctuary Would Close Parts of Pacific to Energy Exploration

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced his intent to expand a U.S. sanctuary in the central Pacific Ocean. Slated to go into effect later this year, the proposal extends protection around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 200 miles and limits fishing and energy development. The White House said it will consider input from lawmakers and fishermen before making any final decisions about the geographic scope of the sanctuary.

In video remarks, Obama said climate change, overfishing and pollution have threatened economic growth opportunities in the ocean.

“We cannot afford to let that happen,” Obama said. “That’s why the United States is leading the fight to protect our oceans. Let’s make sure that years from now we can look our children in the eye and tell them that, yes, we did our part, we took action, and we led the way toward a safer, more stable world.”

Marine reserves, Smithsonian Magazine reports, can mitigate some of these problems by increasing the size and number of marine creatures within its borders and helping species deal with climate change.

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

 


Study Deals Blow for Biofuels as EPA Lowers 2013 Mandate

April 24, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday retroactively lowered the quantity of cellulosic biofuel required for blending in traditional fuels for 2013. In January the EPA agreed to reconsider the mandate “due to the reduced estimate of anticipated cellulosic biofuel production in 2013 that was announced shortly after EPA signed its final rule by one of two companies expected to produce cellulosic biofuel in 2013.”

The new blend level0.0005—more closely aligns with the amount of cellulosic biofuel produced. The EPA based its 2013 standard on the 810,185 ethanol-equivalent gallons produced with nonfood plants last year—a fraction of the 1 billion gallons that Congress sought to require in a 2007 energy law.

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that cellulosic biofuels may actually create more greenhouse gas emissions than traditional gasoline, at least in the short term. It finds that in the early years biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn release 7 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. The study notes that removing corn harvest residue—stalks, leaves and cobs—takes carbon out of the soil.

The researchers used a predictive model based on 36 field studies on four continents that measured the rate at which carbon is oxidized in soil. They also tested the model’s accuracy by comparing its results with data gathered from a nine-year, continuous cornfield experiment in Nebraska.

The biofuels industry, the EPA and other researchers have criticized the study—calling the analysis “simplistic” and pointing to a lack of accounting for varying soil and other conditions in different fields as well as an overestimate of how much residue farmers actually remove.

“This paper is based on a hypothetical assumption that 100 percent of corn stover in a field is harvested; an extremely unlikely scenario that is inconsistent with recommended agricultural practices,” said EPA spokewoman Liz Purchia. “As such, it does not provide useful information relevant to the lifecycle GHG emissions from corn stover ethanol.”

The EPA’s own analysis—assuming about half of corn residue would be removed from fields—found that fuel made from corn residue would meet the 2007 energy law standard requiring cellulosic biofuels to release 60 percent less carbon pollution than gasoline. Although biofuels are better in the long term, the Nature Climate Change study says they won’t meet that standard.

Delays for Keystone XL, Power Plant Rule Still on Track

The EPA insists its proposed rules for regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants will be ready by the Obama administration’s June 1 deadline. Although Deputy EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe reportedly said the rule would come out in “late June, maybe even the end of June,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said Perciasepe “misspoke when talking about 111(d).” She added that “EPA is on track to meet the June 1 goal that’s part of the President’s Climate Action Plan.”

The EPA has already sent a draft of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review. Few details of its contents have been released.

A decision on another hot environmental topic was delayed. The Obama administration said late last week it would give federal agencies more time to assess the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is expected to transport crude tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The announcement, The Washington Post reports, almost certainly pushes a final decision on construction of the pipeline past the November mid-term elections.

“Agencies need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in that state,” the State Department said. “In addition, during this time, we will review and appropriately consider the unprecedented number of new public comments, approximately 2.5 million, received during the public comment period that closed on March 7, 2014.”

Further details on the length of the delay were not provided by the State Department, but some legal experts have said the fight over the Nebraska route could drag out for a year or more. Because the pipeline extension crosses an international border, it requires signoff from the White House. President Barack Obama has said he won’t make a decision until after the State Department completes its assessment.

Arctic Drilling Rule Coming Shortly

Federal regulations that cover oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean are set to be released soon, according to Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Brian Salerno.

“The forthcoming rule will put important safeguards in place for future Arctic drilling operations,” said Salerno. “We hope to release the proposed rule shortly and open it for public comment, continuing an important dialogue on drilling operations in the Arctic that has already included numerous consultations and public meetings.”

The Arctic theoretically holds 30 percent of the world’s remaining undiscovered oil and gas resources. A new report by the National Research Council says that unlike Russia, which just shipped its first load of Arctic offshore oil, the United States is not ready for oil drilling in the region. It suggests that safety resources and oil response tools are not yet adequate.

“The lack of infrastructure in the Arctic would be a significant liability in the event of a large oil spill,” report authors said(subscription). “It is unlikely that responders could quickly react to an oil spill unless there were improved port and air access, stronger supply chains and increased capacity to handle equipment, supplies and personnel.”

Because little is known about how crude oil degrades in Arctic waters and what it does to the food chain, the NRC report authors recommend that authorities release oil into Arctic waters for real-world testing of burning and dispersants.

“To really understand and be best prepared, we’re going to have to do some controlled releases,” said Mark Myers, research vice chancellor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Obviously that’s an important decision to make and we recommend a process for doing that.”

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.


Supreme Court Divided after Hearing on EPA Authority

February 27, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a hearing Monday, the Supreme Court questioned whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is correct in its interpretation that regulating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles triggers the requirement to also implement permitting requirements for large stationary sources. At issue is the legality of EPA’s interpretation of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) regulations. Industry groups argue that the PSD permitting requirements apply to certain pollutants, whereas the EPA argues that they apply to all pollutants, including greenhouse gases. Ultimately, the more than 90-minute session ended with the justices divided over whether the EPA’s regulation of stationary source emissions through permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act was “a sensible accommodation or an impermissible exercise of executive authority.”

“As is so often the case when the court is closely divided, the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy loomed as the critical one, and that vote seemed inclined toward the EPA, though with some doubt,” said SCOTUS blogger Lyle Denniston. “Although he seemed troubled that Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. could call up no prior ruling to support the policy choice the EPA had made on greenhouse gases by industrial plants, Kennedy left the impression that it might not matter.”

A decision is expected by June. According to experts, the court’s ruling could have a range of effects on EPA’s permitting requirements.

If the Supreme Court rules against the EPA, the agency has several options, said Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Climate and Energy Program Director Jonas Monast (subscription). It could, for instance, devise new source performance standards for each individual source or regulate sources under another Clean Air Act program.

Nuclear Reviving

As some residents near the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster get the “all clear” to return to their homes April 1, Japan announced a plan to revive its nuclear program.

Overturning a previous commitment to phase out all nuclear, the draft government plan, which awaits Cabinet approval, instead calls for more long-term reliance on the energy source. It specifies that nuclear dependency will remain low but that reactors meeting standards set after the 2011 Fukushima disaster should be restarted. The Wall Street Journal reports 17 such reactors are undergoing inspection now.

In the United States, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz provided final approval for a $6.5 billion dollar loan guarantee that will be used to construct two nuclear reactors in Georgia—the first built in the United States in more than 30 years. Days later, President Barack Obama approved a deal with Vietnam that would allow the nation to develop nuclear power.

Obama: Decision on Keystone Could Come Soon

A decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline—carrying crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast—will be made in the next “couple of months,” President Barack Obama told attendees at the annual National Governors Association winter meeting Monday. The White House declined to expand on Obama’s comment at the private meeting. Politico reports that it contradicts speculation by parties on both sides that the decision will come after November’s mid-term elections. That speculation began last week after a ruling by a Nebraska judge that struck down a state law approving the pipeline’s route through the state.

The president’s Keystone decision comment came a day after Canada’s National Energy Board audit found TransCanada Corp—the company leading the Keystone XL project—could make improvements in its pipeline safety practices. The audit was moved up after a then-employee of TransCanada came forward with allegations of safety lapses.

“The audit has confirmed that, in response to these allegations, TransCanada has developed and implemented a program of actions with the goal of correcting and preventing similar occurrences,” the National Energy Board said. The board found TransCanada to be non-compliant in four areas: hazard identification, risk assessment and control; operational control in upset or abnormal operating condition; inspection, measurement and monitoring; and management review.

Despite claims the State Department violated conflict of interest rules when it chose an outside contractor to conduct an environmental impact study of the proposed pipeline, a report issued Wednesday found otherwise.

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.


Obama Doesn’t Need Congress to Move Forward on Clean Energy

January 23, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A week before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, a new report says Obama could advance key measures of his Climate Action Plan with or without the cooperation of Congress.

“When they believed a national situation warranted action, some past presidents interpreted their authority broadly and exercised it aggressively,” the report said. “That is the practice of presidential authority Americans and the world need today.”

More than 200 recommendations for how Obama can use his executive authority to accelerate progress on climate change are contained in the 207-page Powering Forward report released by the Center for the New Energy Economy and developed with the help of CEOs, energy experts, academicians and thought leaders. The recommendations focus on clean energy solutions such as doubling energy efficiency, financing renewable energy, producing natural gas more responsibly, developing alternative fuels and vehicles and helping utilities adapt to a changing energy landscape.

Most of the recommendations aren’t all that new, but a few, says Oilprice.com, are interesting. One suggestion is to modify mortgage rules so that qualifying for federally backed mortgage loans requires new homes to be constructed with updated energy efficiency standards.

Despite the report’s ideas for the future, 2013 saw many clean energy developments. The Rocky Mountain Institute calls out 10—including growth in the electric vehicle sector and companies putting a price on carbon—that helped bring the country closer to a secure, prosperous energy future.

NASA, NOAA Label 2013 One of the Planet’s Warmest Years

A pair of reports simultaneously released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reached different conclusions about where 2013 ranks among the world’s hottest years.

NOAA said last year’s average world temperature of 58.12 degrees tied with that of 2003 for the fourth hottest year since 1880—when record keeping began. NASA ranked 2013 the seventh warmest on record—tying 2009 and 2006. The slight difference in rankings, scientists said, could be explained by the methods used by the agencies to interpret the same weather data collected from more than 1,000 metrological stations across the globe. NASA, for example, uses more samples from Antarctica.

Regardless of the difference in rankings, both agencies found that nine of the 10 warmest years on record were in the 21st century. According to NASA, the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere peaked in 2013 at 400 parts per million—higher than any point in the last 800,000 years. The level was 285 parts per million in 1880.

“Long-term trends in surface temperature are unusual and 2013 adds to the evidence for ongoing climate change,” said Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “While one year or one season can be affected by random weather events, this analysis shows the necessity for continued, long-term monitoring.”

Schmidt said 2014 is likely to be even warmer than 2013, remarkable partly because El Nino, the periodic warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, was absent in 2013.

“Through the second half of 2014 we are looking at the likelihood of an El Nino, which will help warm 2014 over 2013,” he said.

Southern Leg of Keystone Begins Exporting Oil

TransCanada began delivering oil on Wednesday from Oklahoma to customers in Nederland, Texas, through the southern portion of a controversial proposed cross-border pipeline. The start of commercial operations for this leg of the Keystone XL pipeline came with little fanfare after approval by the president nearly two years ago. Although landowners in East Texas continue to challenge TransCanada’s right to take their land for the pipeline, it’s the northern leg of the pipeline, which is projected to carry oil from Canada, that’s been most controversial.

The northern portion of the pipeline still awaits approval by the U.S. State Department. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry brushed aside pressure from Canada, offering that he’s not yet received a critical environmental report on the long delayed project.

“My hope is that before long, that analysis will be available, and then my work begins,” he said.

TransCanada acknowledged it has plans to look at building rail terminals in Alberta and Oklahoma if the Obama administration declines to approve the pipeline’s northern leg. Recent accidents involving oil-bearing trains may put more pressure on the administration to approve the pipeline.

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.


Obama Shares Plan for Action on Climate Change

June 27, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a break from circulation July 4 in observance of the Independence Day holiday. We will return July 11.

In a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, President Barack Obama outlined a long-awaited executive strategy—comprised mostly of initiatives already underway—to curb greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

“As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say, ‘We need to act,’” Obama said. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

The plan includes measures previously speculated to be a part of the overall climate change reduction strategy, including boosting renewable energy on federal land and tightening energy efficiency standards. At its heart the plan relies on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations to reduce emissions from new and existing power plants responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The agency issued a proposed rule for new power plants in April 2012, a rule the president said will be finalized soon after a new proposal is submitted no later than September 20, 2013. Once finalized, the rule will trigger a requirement under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act for the EPA to regulate existing sources. Under Obama’s plan, the proposed rule for existing plants wouldn’t be issued until June 2014, and may not be finalized for another year afterward.

The Clean Air Act provision addressing performance standards for existing facilities—specifically, Section 111(d)—calls for a partnership between the EPA and state governments under which the EPA identifies an emission target, then states design and implement the performance standards that are subject to the agency’s approval. The combination of limited precedent and the statute’s general language should provide the EPA with a broad array of options for setting the emission target and evaluating the adequacy of state plans to achieve it.

To spur investment in technologies that keep carbon dioxide produced by power plants from being released into the atmosphere, Obama will make roughly $8 billion in federal loan guarantees available. This will fund a variety of advanced energy projects, including carbon capture and storage.

‘Wiggle Room’ Still Left for Keystone XL Decision

Obama’s thinking on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline—carrying 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada’s tar sands to Texas—is subject to interpretation.

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Obama said. “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

The Washington Post reports that Obama may have left himself some “wiggle room” on the decision—expected as early as this summer. In March, the State Department issued a draft environmental impact statement finding Keystone XL wouldn’t lead to significantly more carbon pollution. The administration has said it will examine whether vetoing the project would mean higher emissions than if it were built.

Renewable Energy to Double

Renewable energy is another key initiative in Obama’s climate strategy, and he shared plans Tuesday to issue permits for 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on federal land and 100 megawatts of installed renewable capacity for federally-subsidized housing. The move would double production by 2020.

The plan’s release coincides with the International Energy Agency’s release of a five-year energy outlook identifying global renewable energy as fast growing—edging out natural gas as the second largest electricity source, after coal, by 2016.

Supreme Court to Review Cross State Air Pollution Rule

The Supreme Court will review the lower court’s decision striking down the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which would set limits for emissions from coal-fired power plants that cross state lines. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ overturned the rule in August 2012, stating the agency exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act by imposing “massive emissions reduction requirements.”

The rule would cap emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in 28 states in the eastern half of the country where pollution blows into neighboring jurisdictions. In a statement, the EPA told POWERnews it was “pleased” with the decision to reconsider the rule, but “the Supreme Court’s decision to grant our petition is not a decision on the merits but instead a decision to review the case on merits. As such, it does not alter the current status of [CAIR] or the Cross-State Rule.”

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.


Carbon Tax Is a Popular Topic in Washington

March 14, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Since China announced it will hold off plans to introduce a carbon tax, the idea has generated some activity on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers on Tuesday proposed a draft bill that would charge the largest industrial polluters a fee for, or carbon tax on, their fossil-fuel emissions. The plan, proposed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), includes three possible per-ton prices for carbon pollution—$15, $25 or $30—and annual cost increases ranging from 2 percent to 8 percent to ensure that emissions continue to decrease. The new bill solicits feedback on how revenue (subscription required) generated by the fee or tax should be spent but proposes that proceeds go toward mitigating energy costs for consumers, reducing the deficit, protecting jobs, decreasing the tax liability for businesses and individuals and investing in other activities that could reduce carbon pollution.

The Waxman-Whitehouse draft, which has not been formally introduced into Congress or even finalized, is one of a few carbon tax proposals circulating in Washington. A measure by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was released last month. The same week as the release of the Waxman-Whitehouse draft, Republicans introduced a resolution that opposed a national carbon tax, citing its threat to the economy and businesses.

Two studies of a carbon tax have produced very different results. A study by the National Association of Manufacturers finds that a carbon tax starting at $20 per ton and rising 4 percent yearly would result in an economic slowdown. Meanwhile, a report by the Brookings Institution finds that a carbon tax could have benefits—including improving environmental outcomes and increasing economic efficiency.

A national poll released recently by Duke University found that 29 percent of the respondents strongly or somewhat supported a carbon tax. There was much more support surrounding a clean energy standard or other traditional measures to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Will “Fire Ice” Discovery Revolutionize the Energy Industry?

Japan has produced methane from methane hydrates, a fossil fuel that behaves like ice, from deep under the ocean for the first time. Deposits of the fuel source, known as “fire ice,” may be large enough to supply the country’s natural gas needs for years. An estimated 1.1 trillion cubic meters of gas are trapped off Shikoku Island. Japan hopes to convert the trapped methane into natural gas that could help address recent energy woes, but the Japanese government says it is still at least five years away from commercial extraction. Japanese officials point to the recent gas boom in the United States as evidence that complex drilling processes can yield big results—a fact that has Australia worried. Japan is Australia’s top natural gas customer.

The fuel source is also being explored in Canada and the United States, with the latter funding 14 research projects on methane hydrates. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that naturally occurring gas hydrates could contain more than 100,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—potentially more organic carbon than the world’s coal, oil and other forms of natural gas combined. Recent mappings off the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts show large offshore accumulations of methane hydrate, but the potential environmental effects of drilling for hydrates remain little understood.

The Future of Nuclear Power

Monday marked the second anniversary of Japan’s tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Before the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Japan was the third largest consumer of nuclear energy, behind the United States. Now just two of the country’s 50 operable reactors are online. With plans to phase out nuclear power by 2040, the long-term energy strategy is expected to bring higher electricity rates for consumers this year.

The future of nuclear remains less certain worldwide. The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently told more than 3,000 industry executives, experts and government regulators that when it comes to commercial reactors they must be ready to deal with the unknown.

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists is more critical of the industry. It points to safety mishaps at nuclear plants across the United States in 2012. The study, released shortly after the NRC annual report card, details a dozen events.

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.


Climate Change under the Microscope in Report, Leaked IPCC Draft

December 20, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: In observance of the holidays, The Climate Post will take a break from regular circulation Dec. 27. It will return January 3, 2013. 

As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., debate the so-called fiscal cliff—when U.S. federal tax increases and spending cuts are due to take effect at the end of 2012—new research in the journal Nature Climate Change says we are already at the edge of a climate cliff. It explores the cost and risk associated with surpassing critical emissions thresholds by 2020, and what would need to take place to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius—a mark many regard as the limit to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It further shares that reaching the 2-degree target may still be possible even if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced before 2020, but it will be more expensive and difficult, and come with higher risks. Just weeks ago, at the United Nations climate conference in Doha, governments failed to impose additional emissions cuts—looking to a new global climate treaty that would go into effect in 2020.

Meanwhile, the draft of the next assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which provides detailed assessments of climate science every few years—was leaked online by blogger Alec Rawls before its intended release next year. Rawls claims it contains a “game-changing admission” about the sun’s effect on climate, but Dana Nuccitelli writes in The Guardian that Rawls “has completely misrepresented” the report. Rawls’ interpretations actually draw attention from other interesting conclusions in the draft thus far, the New Scientist reports—such as ice-free Arctic summers by 2100, greater sea-level rise and the likelihood we’ll see almost 9 degrees Celsius of warming by 2300. The IPCC itself criticized the leak, but Andrew Revkin writes in The New York Times that—while he disagrees with Rawls’ interpretations of the report—the leak “provides fresh evidence that the [IPCC’s] policies and procedures are a terrible fit for an era in which transparency will increasingly be enforced on organizations working on consequential energy and environmental issues.”

Soot Standard Updated

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in response to a court order, has imposed updates to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particulate pollution from power plants and diesel vehicles. The new rule, which includes soot, was revised to allow only 12 micrograms of particulate pollution—a 20 percent reduction from the 15 micrograms allowed per cubic meter of air set in 1997. While the EPA projects 99 percent of U.S. counties will meet the revised health standard by 2020, today 66 counties in eight states—including the metropolitan areas of Houston, Chicago, Cleveland and Los Angeles—do not meet it.

The highly anticipated standards came with mixed reviews, with many applauding them and one study finding reductions in particulate matter correlated to increased life expectancy. “These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness on our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air.” Still, others criticized the rulingclaiming, among other things, that it threatens industry expansion.

2013 Climate and Energy Outlook

In the new year there are a number of energy and climate related developments to keep tabs on. Among them:

Oil and Gasoline: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gasoline consumption will remain flat in 2013, while U.S. oil production will rise to 7.1 million barrels a day—the highest average annual production rate in the country since 1992.

Keystone XL Pipeline: President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision on this pipeline—bringing crude from the Canadian oil sands to the U.S. There are still snags along the way, as residents challenge the pipeline and information surfaces about advanced spill technologies absent in current plans.

Cap-and-Trade Linkage: Quebec has adopted new regulations that could pave the way for the province to set up a cap-and-trade system with California in the new year.

Coal Demand to Increase: The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, predicted demand for coal will increase in every region of the world by 2017 except the U.S.

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.


After Tar Sands Pipeline Decision Delayed, Other Routes Sought

November 17, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not be circulated next Thursday in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. Look for it again on December 1.

The Obama administration delayed deciding whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which has been proposed to carry tar sands from Canada to Texas’s Gulf Coast. The administration said it should consider alternate routes and wait until early 2013 to decide.

Industry officials in Canada thought the delay may derail the pipeline, and threaten the country’s aim of becoming a top oil producer. To maintain high prices for Canadian oil, there is an urgent need for new means of export, including to Asia, argued the Globe and Mail.

Meanwhile Republican lawmakers proposed a bill for speeding up the review process, and TransCanada Corp., the company proposing the pipeline, argued the approval could come in six to nine months.

In Nebraska, the pipeline has met opposition in part because of fears the pipeline would threaten the vast Ogallala Aquifer that underlies much of the state and the ecologically sensitive Sandhills region.

Nebraska’s legislature voted unanimously, earlier this week, for a bill to re-route the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as for a separate bill to establish authority for the state to regulate pipeline routes within its borders. In response, TransCanada Corp. has proposed a different route through Nebraska.

Diplomacy and Downsizing

The U.S. Department of State, which has been in charge of reviewing the Keystone XL application, has opened a new branch, the Bureau of Energy Resources. The new bureau, a result of a review that began in 2009, will aim to strengthen “energy diplomacy.”

The State Department’s special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs said the main goal is not energy independence for the U.S., since the country is tightly linked with global markets. The new bureau will push for increased use of natural gas around the world as a replacement for burning oil to generate electricity.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) is under fire for its handling of cleantech loans, in particular of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was scheduled to testify. Meanwhile an internal review at the DoE said the department spends too much on overhead and should restructure in preparation for downsizing forced by budget cuts likely to come.

Salvaging the Kyoto Essence

The upcoming climate talks in Durban, South Africa, are unlikely to make any huge strides, the Christian Science Monitor argued, but could make a crucial contribution by extending the Kyoto Protocol. Salvaging the essence of that agreement is the most important step, agreed Africa’s chief negotiator at the talks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for richer countries to follow through with their pledge for a $100 billion annual climate aid, and the Green Climate Fund, both of which G-20 countries said they remain committed to recently. But the deepening economic problems in Europe may mean contributions to climate funds fall short of promises.

The Green Climate Fund has run into problems already, hampered by disagreements over how to structure it. Because of lack of transparency and possible double-counting of funds, it is difficult to say how much additional climate aid has actually been contributed, said Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development.

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.


Only Five Years Left to Make Transition to Low-Carbon Infrastructure

November 10, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The infrastructure built over the next five years could “lock in” enough emissions to push the world past its target for limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest annual update of energy trends, World Energy Outlook.

The Agency is “increasingly pessimistic” about the prospect for dealing with climate change, said deputy executive director Richard Jones.

To stay below 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the world has a budget of greenhouse gases it can emit, equal to about 1 trillion tons of CO2. Infrastructure already in place, or in the process of being built, will emit about 80 percent of that, the IEA estimated.

Unless there is a binding international agreement soon to ensure a swift transition to low-carbon infrastructure, “the door to 2 degrees will be closed forever,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. So, investment in cleantech can’t wait until economic good times, argued the Guardian’s Damian Carrington.

This transition away from fossil fuels will require that annual subsidies for renewable energy continue rising, reaching $250 billion by 2035—four times today’s level—the IEA estimated, but this would still be considerably less than today’s fossil fuel subsidies.

The IEA foresees oil prices remaining high for decades to come, with a tight market with risks of price spikes if there is a cut-off due to war or soaring prices if there is insufficient investment in oil fields.

Because of these climate and security risks, Birol argued, “We have to leave oil before it leaves us.”

Solar Trade War?

The boom in Chinese production of low-cost solar panels has hit U.S. manufacturers hard, making it difficult for them to compete.

Subsidies for renewable energy in China have sparked accusations of a trade war with the United States, prompting a U.S. Department of Commerce investigation.

Some U.S. manufacturers launched an official complaint against China, and have called for a duty on Chinese panels imported into the U.S.

Another group of U.S. solar manufacturers and installers banded together to form the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy to oppose the complaint. This led China’s largest solar power plant developer to shelve plans for a $500 million U.S. project.

Despite China’s large exports of solar panels, they’re also using many at home—and may install as much solar capacity as the U.S. this year.

Carbon Tax Approved

Australia will impose a large tax on carbon emissions, after the country’s Senate passed the legislation. The tax will kick in next July, and the country is pursuing linking its carbon market with others in New Zealand and Europe.

The system will be tax-and-dividend in which households will be compensated for higher energy prices, with payments of about 10 Australian dollars per week scheduled to start in May, before the tax hits.

Pipeline Controversy

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline to carry tar sands from Canada to Texas faced its biggest opposition yet with a revival of protests in Washington, D.C., in which thousands of protesters encircled the White House.

Canada is also considering another tar sands pipeline called Northern Gateway to reach a port on the Pacific coast, sited for export to Asia.

Oil historian Daniel Yergin argued opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline is misguided because if the U.S. doesn’t buy the fuel, China will.

Either way, the large store of tar sands in Canada could reshape world oil markets, said the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which represents large exporters such as Saudi Arabia, but does not include Canada.

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.


Big Businesses’ Call for Climate Action: Strong Treaty, More Aid

October 20, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A group of 285 large investors, representing more than $20 trillion in assets, urged world governments to forge a binding treaty at upcoming climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, and said global spending has not been nearly enough to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

The call came from a coalition of four green investment groups—representing the investment arms of banks HSBC and BNP Paribas, as well as of fashion company Hermes and the United Nations Environment Programme—aimed at limiting emissions and taxing them, arguing it will drive innovation, attract investment and create jobs. The call also hailed Australia’s recent move toward a carbon tax, saying it will be a boon for investors.

Meanwhile, another group of more than 175 companies called for Durban attendees to ensure $100 billion in annual climate aid to poor nations, as had been promised earlier.

No Big Bang

But Jos Delbeke, director general for climate action at the European Commission believes the long-running negotiations through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are unlikely to produce a “big bang”—that is, a breakthrough that would lead to the birth of a new climate treaty.

In preparation for the upcoming meeting, Japan has signaled it may step back from its own target of cutting CO2 emissions 25 percent by 2020—and it is bringing it up now to avoid giving the “wrong message to the international community,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Japan, Canada and Russia have said they won’t accept an extension of the Kyoto Protocol unless it binds all major economies—which is not the case under Kyoto—but other governments are seeking a way to extend the treaty even without those three countries.

Yomiuri Shimbun also reported Japan will argue the next legally binding climate agreement should wait until 2015, after the Kyoto Protocol lapses in 2012.

Door Closing

Meanwhile, International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol gave a sneak preview of the upcoming World Energy Outlook report, which will argue that without bold action, “the door may be closing” on limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Meeting the challenge will take about $38 trillion in spending on oil, gas and electricity infrastructure over the next 25 years.

According to a leaked version of the European Union’s Energy Roadmap 2050, in most scenarios—with differing amounts of efficiency, renewable energy and nuclear power—electricity prices will rise until about 2030, and then fall.

Already the high cost of energy is eating into consumers’ disposable income in the U.S., as well as in the U.K., where it is driving inflation up.

As a counter-measure, the U.K. is pursuing “serious intervention” in the energy market to increase competition and transparency, and the country’s Department of Energy and Climate Change hopes a new bill that came into effect on home energy efficiency will help fight rising bills.

Mixed Signals

A New York Times article asked “Where Did Global Warming Go?,” noting the topic has faded from Obama’s speeches and arguing the GOP has made climate change skepticism a requirement for electability.

However, Joseph Romm at Climate Progress pointed a finger at the New York Times and other major media outlets as part of the problem because there has been a major decline in the amount of climate coverage. Others, such as William Y. Brown of the Brookings Institution argued the New York Times piece is wrong to say Americans don’t trust scientists; rather they don’t like being lectured.

Green issues do appeal to voters, according to a study by Stanford University researchers, who found American politicians who took a pro-green stance were more likely to win. More specifically, Democrats who supported green issues won more often, and Republicans who took anti-green stances lost more often than if they kept silent on the topic.

Energy will also be a significant issue for GOP candidates, according to “energy and environment insiders” polled by the National Journal. Especially important, the insiders said, will be linking energy policy with job creation.

Luxury in a Smaller Package

Even in these hard economic times, luxury cars still have a market and automakers are rolling out new models that, while remaining plush and pricey, are shrinking, both in body and engine.

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.