Obama Promises Strong Action on Climate Change, Energy Independence in State of the Union Address

January 30, 2014
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama took just 5 minutes of the 65-minute speech to cover energy and environment issues. He declared climate change “a fact,” stating “when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Despite this assertion, National Geographic reports Obama’s efforts on climate change since his last State of the Union address have come up short in the minds of many in the environmental community. On Tuesday, Obama did mention a number of issues, most of which he had discussed before, to deal with climate change. He wants to set new fuel efficiency standards for trucks, and he promised to “cut red tape” to establish natural-gas-powered factories and fueling stations for cars and trucks. He endorsed natural gas not only as an economic driver, but also as a way to further cut emissions.

He also mentioned efforts to set emissions limits for power plants, and, if necessary, to use his executive power to move the effort forward. But portending the political drama to come, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted earlier Tuesday to scrap a measure (subscription) to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

Obama went on to tout the administration’s work toward attaining energy independence, offering that there is more “oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world.” According to White House reports, domestic crude oil production surpassed crude oil imports in October 2013 for the first time since 1995.

The president did not mention whether he intends to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline—projected to carry tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The closest he came, Politico reports, was alluding to “tough choices along the way” during a shift to a “cleaner energy economy.” Coal, nuclear power and wind—sources responsible for 60 percent of the nation’s electricity generation—received no mention.

Long-Awaited Farm Bill Passes House

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a five-year farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, containing provisions for renewable energy, energy efficiency programs in rural areas, cuts to food stamps and modifications to the federal agricultural subsidy system.

The bill, which will now go before the Senate, contains $881 million in mandatory funding for energy programs. The provision—which extends over the next 10 years—provides funding for projects focused on advanced biofuels and a program encouraging the development of wind, solar, hydroelectric and biogas projects.

“With stable policy and the investments included in this conference report, Farm Bill energy programs will continue to help rural communities create economic growth and good paying jobs,” said Biotechnology Industry Organization President and CEO Jim Greenwood. “The expansion of eligibility to new renewable chemical technologies and the support for new energy crops will create additional opportunities and improve U.S. economic growth across the country.”

The bill also includes an enhanced crop insurance program that would aid livestock producers in the event of a natural disaster and severe weather.

Botched Analysis Leaves Arctic Drilling in Question

The federal government failed to properly evaluate environmental risks related to offshore drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, a federal appellate court ruled recently. Three Ninth Circuit Court judges found the environmental review the U.S. Department of the Interior conducted before approving the sale of 2008 drilling leases considered the impact of drilling for 1 billion barrels of oil. A lawsuit brought by environmental groups and Native Alaska tribes alleged a larger environmental impact given that available oil was much higher.

The ruling brings the oil leases, covering some 30 million acres of sea floor, into question. And it means another setback for Shell, which announced plans to resume exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer, following several mishaps in the area in 2012. Of the companies that purchased leases in 2008, Shell is the only company that has begun drilling in the Arctic. On Thursday, the oil giant announced it will abandon plans to drill off the coast of Alaska this year.

The case is currently scheduled to return to a U.S. District Court in Alaska.

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.


EIA Releases Early Predictions from Annual Energy Outlook

December 19, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: In observance of the upcoming holidays, the Climate Post will not circulate the next two weeks. It will return Jan. 9, 2014. 

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Monday released a 20-page preview of its Annual Energy Outlook 2014, which includes projections of U.S. energy supply, demand and prices through 2040.

Although the full report won’t be released until spring 2014, the preview projects a spike of 800,000 barrels a day in domestic crude oil production in 2014. By 2016, U.S. oil production will reach historical levels—close to the 9.6 million barrels a day achieved in 1970. The feat—made possible by fracking and other advanced drilling technologies—is expected to bring imported oil supplies down to 25 percent, compared with the current 37 percent, by 2016. Eventually though, the boom will level off, and production will slowly decline after 2020.

Natural gas will replace coal as the largest source of U.S. electricity. In 2040, natural gas will account for 35 percent of total electricity generation, while coal will account for 32 percent. Production of natural gas is predicted to increase 56 percent between 2012 and 2040; the U.S. will become an overall net exporter of the fuel by 2018—roughly two years earlier than the EIA projected in last year’s forecast.

“EIA’s updated Reference case shows that advanced technologies for crude oil and natural gas production are continuing to increase domestic supply and reshape the U.S. energy economy as well as expand the potential for U.S. natural gas exports,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski. “Growing domestic hydrocarbon production is also reducing our net dependence on imported oil and benefiting the U.S. economy as natural-gas-intensive industries boost their output.”

Total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are also predicted to remain below 2005 levels—roughly 6 billion metric tons—through 2040.

Oil to Flow from Southern Leg of Keystone Pipeline in 2014

Next month some 700,000 barrels per day are expected to begin flowing from Cushing, Okla. to Texas through the 485-mile pipeline that forms the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline project. Initial testing, before the Jan. 22 launch, is showing no issues with the pipeline or shippers, according to project lead TransCanada.

Construction of the southern leg required only state environmental permits and permission by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The northern leg—bringing crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast—has been more controversial. It awaits presidential approval on a trans-border permit.

Even so, TransCanada announced it has reached an agreement with 100 percent of landowners in five of the six states through which the 1,700-mile northern leg will pass. The remaining holdouts are in Nebraska, where the pipeline’s route was reworked to avoid crossing the Sand Hills aquifer.

U.S. Military to Utilize More Biofuel

On the heels of a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lower the country’s 2014 biofuel mandate, the U.S. military announced plans to make biofuel blends part of its regular “operational fuel purchase” through a collaboration of the Navy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The Navy’s intensifying efforts to use advanced, homegrown fuels to power our military benefits both America’s national security and our rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Not only will production of these fuels create jobs in rural America, they’re cost effective for our military, which is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the nation.”

Sudden fuel price spikes—responsible for as much as $5 billion in unbudgeted fuel increases—were cited as one reason for the program, which will begin in 2014. Deliveries are expected in mid-2015.

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.


Clean Air Rules Face Scrutiny as World’s Largest Emitter Develops Climate Plan

December 12, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Oral arguments were held Tuesday to determine the legality of a rule that regulates air pollution crossing state lines. Before the U.S. Supreme Court was the issue of whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exceeded its authority by designing state limits for air pollution when it developed the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which was intended to take effect in January 2012. In particular, the court considered whether the EPA’s determinations of upwind states’ “significant contributions” to air pollution in downwind states were consistent with the language of the Clean Air Act (CAA). In August 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the rule, which required 28 upwind states in the South and Midwest to cut ozone and fine particle emissions, primarily from power plants.

Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Malcolm L. Stewart likened the EPA’s situation to that of a basketball coach answering a question about whether the missed layup or missed desperation shot at the buzzer “contributed significantly” to the loss of a game. Under the CAA, he said, the EPA has to decide which of the states that transported pollution across a border “contributed significantly” to a neighboring state’s inability to satisfy a federal clean air standard.

Revival of CSAPR may be in the offing, the Associated Press suggested. “It’s certainly hard,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. of the task of allocating responsibility, “but it is what the [Clean Air Act] statute says, and it seems to me that if EPA had taken a different view, it would have been contrary to the statute.” The National Journal, however, saw no clear indication of which direction the justices were leaning. A tie vote, the Washington Post reports, would leave the earlier ruling in place and send the EPA back to the drawing board.

Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) was also before the court Tuesday. The MATS rule, which aims to reduce mercury and other air toxics from the country’s coal- and oil-fired power plants, also faced challenges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit this week. Industry groups have claimed the agency’s rulemaking process was “substantively and procedurally flawed.”

Meanwhile, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases has proposed a new plan to deal with the consequences of global warming that it admits it is ill-prepared to address. According to the plan, China will implement a number of initiatives—such as promoting better farming practices and protecting nature and wildlife—by 2020.

United States Poised to Top Germany in Solar Installations

As the International Energy Agency signals higher than previously forecast global oil demand in 2014, a new report indicates that total installed solar power grew 35 percent in 2013 compared with last year in the United States. Developers are on pace to nearly double the 930 megawatts of photovoltaic solar installed in the third quarter—the second-largest quarter for solar installations in U.S. history. States leading installations this quarter included California, Arizona, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Nevada.

The Solar Energy Industries Association’s report predicts U.S. solar capacity could rise 27 percent by the end of the fourth quarter, putting the United States ahead of Germany for the first time in 15 years. In a discussion with Deutsche Welle about the potential for solar to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Eicke Weber, director of the largest solar research institute in Europe, claimed “we’re at a floodgate” of a solar energy boom.

Podesta to Join Obama Administration

John Podesta, currently chairman of the Center for American Progress, is said to be joining President Barack Obama as an advisor. Podesta played a critical role in shaping former President Bill Clinton’s environmental record as his chief of staff in the late 90s. He’s continued to make climate change a priority at the Center for American Progress.

During his one-year appointment, likely beginning next month, Podesta is again expected to play a pivotal role in shaping the country’s environmental policy.

“He will advise on a range of issues with a particular focus on issues of energy and climate change, but will obviously bring a lot of experience to bear,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. He will not work on matters related to the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposal he has criticized in the past.

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.


Report Warns of Sudden Climate Change Impacts

December 5, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hard-to-predict sudden changes to Earth’s environment are more worrisome than larger but more gradual impacts of climate change, according a panel of scientists advising the federal government. A 200-page report released Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences repeatedly warns of potential climate “tipping points” beyond which “major and rapid changes occur.” And some of these changes—happening in years instead of centuries—have already begun. They include melting ice in the Arctic Ocean and mass species extinctions.

Study co-author Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University compared the threat of abrupt climate change effects to the random danger of drunk drivers: “You can’t see it coming, so you can’t prepare for it. The faster it is, the less you see it coming, the more it costs.”

The report did have some “good news.” Two other abrupt climate threats—giant burps of undersea and frozen methane and the slowing of deep ocean currents that could lead to dramatic coastal cooling—won’t be so sudden, giving people more time to prepare.

Report authors say the threat of sudden climate change disaster requires an early warning system that would be integrated into existing warning systems for natural disasters. With improved scientific monitoring and a better understanding of the climate system, abrupt change could be anticipated and potential consequences could be reduced.

The National Academy of Sciences report follows the wrap up of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland, which produced the outlines of an emissions reduction deal to be agreed on in 2015. Though the pact’s wording was vague, some decisions were more concrete. They include a multi-billion dollar framework to tackle deforestation and measures to boost demand for a clean development mechanism encouraging countries without legally binding emissions targets to use carbon credits. Participants also finalized details on how countries’ emissions reductions will be monitored, reported and verified.

Saying the government should lead by example, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to increase their use of renewable energy from 7.5 to 20 percent by 2020. The new commitment is intended to reduce pollution and boost domestic energy independence.

Obama Environment Advisor to Step Down

The Obama administration will lose its second top environmental advisor, Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in February. In the post she’s held since 2009, Sutley helped spearhead the National Ocean Policy and contributed to Obama’s climate plan.

“Under her leadership, Federal agencies are meeting the goals I set for them at the beginning of the administration by using less energy, reducing pollution, and saving taxpayer dollars,” said President Obama in a statement. “Her efforts have made it clear that a healthy environment and a strong economy aren’t mutually exclusive—they can go hand in hand.”

Sutley’s departure comes on the heels of Heather Zichal’s exit last month and the resignation of Lisa Jackson, who left the EPA in early 2013. That leaves the big job of implementing—and defending—Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions on the shoulders of “new and existing power plant lieutenants,” according to ClimateWire.

Iran Nuclear Deal Reached

International negotiators recently reached a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program for six months—pending a formal pact freezing or reversing progress at all of Iran’s major nuclear facilities. Talks surrounding the formal pledge may begin as early as next week.

The deal, struck between Iran and five other major countries, brings a partial lifting of sanctions on Tehran. Oil sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union will be maintained even though key parts of Iran’s nuclear program will be rolled back.

“Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium,” said President Barack Obama. “Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.”

The temporary freeze that could start by early January represents the first time in about a decade that Iran has agreed to stop some of its nuclear activities. A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute suggests 77 percent of Israelis surveyed don’t believe the deal will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

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.


Leadership Change in the White House

October 10, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Heather Zichal, President Barack Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, announced plans this week to step down. Zichal has advised the president since 2008 and assisted in the creation of his Climate Action Plan, unveiled in June, to cut carbon emissions from U.S. power plants and other sources.

Although a replacement has not been named, some news outlets reported that Dan Utech, a deputy director for energy and climate at the White House, could be tapped for the role. Politico reported other names such as Kevin Knobloch, now chief of staff to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; Gary Guzy, deputy director of the Council on Environmental Quality and Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke. Whomever is chosen will face a sizeable to-do list that includes turning the president’s climate plan into a reality (subscription).

“Heather had her fingerprints on every climate and clean-energy success of this administration,” said Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress. “Heather’s replacement is going to have a big job ahead of them—she wrote the blueprint of the climate-action plan, and they’ll have to see it through.”

Her departure in the next few weeks marks a nearly complete turnover of the administration’s climate and energy team.

Renewable Fuel Standard Challenged by Industry

The American Petroleum Institute (API)—representing hundreds of oil and natural gas companies—has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the government’s estimate of the amount of ethanol that should be mixed with conventional gas under the 2013 Renewable Fuel Standard. Harry Ng, API vice president said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated refiners use 4 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2013 but that so far only 142,000 gallons have been available to refiners to blend.

“EPA issued this year’s requirement nine months late and has once again mandated significantly more cellulosic ethanol than is available in the marketplace,” said Ng.

The API filed its suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the same court that in January ruled in another API-filed lawsuit that the EPA was too “aspirational” in setting its 2012 cellulosic biofuels mandate.

Meanwhile, a report by GreenWire indicated draft proposals circulating among stakeholders signal the EPA intends to scale back 2014 targets for conventional corn ethanol and advance biofuels (subscription).

Government Shutdown Hits 10-Day Mark

As the partial government shutdown reaches its second week, there are glimmers of hope that Republicans and Democrats could break their impasse. House Republican leaders are considering a plan to raise the nation’s borrowing limit temporarily to buy time for negotiations on broader policy measures. The Washington Post reports that if the plan goes over well with rank-and-file Republicans, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) could put it on the floor for a vote late today, but getting things up and running again with this approach could take until next spring as the effects on the environment become more wide-reaching.

  • Science: Everything from the funding of scientific research to environmental protection programs are on hold, including groundbreaking work to harness the power of the sun through self-sustaining nuclear fusion.
  • Oil and Gas Permits: Though the government is still issuing offshore drilling permits, similar approvals for onshore oil and gas wells on public lands have stopped, and an oil and gas lease auction scheduled for later this month in New Mexico has been canceled. Thus, the shutdown will deprive the federal government of a reliable revenue source—more than 6 million acres of federal land leases auctioned in 2012 brought in more than $233 million.
  • Energy Markets: If the shutdown is prolonged, the data relied on to shape future commodity markets—especially for energy and agriculture—may not exist.
  • Workforce: The Department of Energy, though still fully operational, won’t be for long (subscription). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission began furloughing employees today.
  • EPA Rulemaking: The shutdown has forced the EPA to postpone the start of hearings on proposed carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants (subscription).

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


EPA Finalizes Biofuel Mandate

August 8, 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 the next two weeks. We will return to our regular posting schedule August 29.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced final 2013 biofuel volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard. Issued Tuesday, the final rule lowers targets for biofuels production in 2014—requiring that 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels be blended into the U.S. fuel supply including 1.28 billion gallons from biomass-based diesel fuel and 2.75 billion gallons from advanced biofuels. These are the same quotas proposed by the EPA in February. The agency’s initial 14 million gallon cellulosic biofuel quota, however, was dropped to 6 million gallons.

Additional time was also given for refiners to meet 2013 volume quotas. The EPA now requires compliance by June 30, 2014—a four-month extension. When it comes to future quota limits, the EPA says it will utilize “flexibilities” in the law to reduce the amount of biofuel needed next year, when a “wall” is projected.

The Washington Post offers some backstory on why the targets—which were supposed to hit 16.55 billion gallons in 2013 and rise to 36 billion gallons in 2022—have been hard to reach.

Study: Sea Level Rise Threatens to Put Cities Underwater

A new study finds rising sea levels will threaten some 1,400 cities and towns in the United States by 2100 if global emissions continue to increase. Prior emissions have locked in 4 feet of future sea level rise, the study suggests, and 3.6 million Americans live in 316 municipalities already at risk, in places such as New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale and Atlantic City. Should global emissions continue to increase, the study states that the world may experience 23 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, putting more than 1,000 cities and towns at risk.

“The current trend in carbon emissions likely implies the eventual crippling or loss of most coastal cities in the world,” said Benjamin Strauss, a study author and Climate Central scientist. “It’s like this invisible threat.”

Keystone XL Decision Could Experience Further Delays

Although President Barack Obama vowed to rule before 2014 on the Keystone XL pipeline—which would carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico—an upcoming trial could delay a final decision (subscription). The suit, set for trial in Nebraska Sept. 27, contends the Nebraska state legislature unconstitutionally gave Gov. Dave Heineman authority to approve the pipeline’s route. A win could force a more than 1,000-mile leg of the project to go through the siting process again.

Mother Jones reports that another pipeline project is quietly moving ahead. The 774-mile Eastern Gulf Crude Access Pipeline project would run from Illinois to Louisiana and is projected to carry oil quantities similar to those that could flow through the Keystone XL by 2015.

Warming Climate Linked to More Violent Behavior

When temperatures rise, so does aggression, according to a new study in the journal Science. The analysis looked at several dozen studies examining the relationship between climate and conflict in most regions of the world over the last 10,000 years. It revealed that even slight spikes in temperature have increased the risk of personal violence and social upheaval throughout history, a finding that could have critical implications for understanding the impact of climate change on future societies.

“Past climatic events have exerted significant influence on human conflict,” the study authors wrote (subscription). “If future populations respond similarly to past populations, then anthropogenic climate change has the potential to substantially increase conflict around the world, relative to a world without climate change.”

Some national security experts and scholars are skeptical of the conclusion, questioning whether the link to climate change is established and citing prior studies that suggest the opposite connection is true. Authors of the Science study have taken on some of these critiques.

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.

 


McCarthy: Climate Change Is “Opportunity of a Lifetime”

August 1, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In her first public speech, newly minted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy vowed to curb climate-altering pollution, an effort that she said would spark business innovation, grow jobs and strengthen the economy. McCarthy, who was confirmed to lead the EPA in July after pushbacks from Republicans, spoke before an audience in her native Boston.

“Let’s talk about this as an opportunity of a lifetime, because there are too many lifetimes at stake,” McCarthy said of regulating emissions, noting the EPA will work to develop a “new mindset about how climate change and environmental protection fits within our national and global economic agenda.”

Although the EPA has met some opposition from industry groups and Republicans who say environmental regulation hurts the economy, McCarthy said she planned to continue issuing new rules and felt President Barack Obama’s new Climate Action Plan could “fuel the complementary goals of turning America into a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.”

A key part of Obama’s plan is upcoming regulation of emissions from new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. McCarthy said every dollar spent so far on Clean Air Act rules has produced $30 in benefits, with health benefits outweighing the cost of air regulations 30 to 1.

Role of Coal in Energy Future

Though coal accounts for nearly 45 percent of global energy-related carbon emissions, its use continues to rise. In fact, the Energy Information Administration finds that coal use will grow faster than petroleum and other liquid fuels use until after 2030—partially due to China’s increased consumption.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday told employees of the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown that coal and other fossil fuels “will be a major part of our energy futures for decades.” The speech comes roughly a month after Obama laid out a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase both clean energy production and energy efficiency. Moniz said the administration has spent about $6 billion on clean coal technologies, specifically technologies that capture, store and reuse carbon emissions.

Pace of Some Renewable Energy Efforts Slow

An energy efficiency bill expected for a floor debate this week now won’t be considered until after the Senate’s August recess. The National Journal looks at why passing the bill, which encourages energy conservation by homeowners, manufacturers and the federal government through several measures, is harder than one might think.

In Florida, a biorefinery plant became the world’s first to produce commercial quantities of cellulosic ethanol from wood waste and lawn clippings. Numbers were not released, but shipments from INEOS Bio in Vero Beach will begin in August. The industry has fallen short of the federal renewable fuel targets for ethanol made from cellulose (subscription required).

“Unlocking the potential for the responsible development of all of America’s rich energy resources is a critical part of our all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Moniz. “Today’s announcement of commercial-scale cellulosic production represents an important benchmark for American leadership in this growing global industry. It also demonstrates the need for early-stage investment in innovative technologies that will help diversify our energy portfolio, reduce carbon pollution and lead to tomorrow’s energy breakthroughs.”

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.


IEA Says Policies Could Keep 2 Degrees Celsius Goal Alive

June 13, 2013
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), warns global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions set an all-time high in 2012, throwing the world off its path to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2020. These emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to 31.6 billion tons—though the U.S. posted its lowest emissions (down 200 million tons), curbing them to mid-1990 levels.

“Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “But the problem is not going away—quite the opposite. This report shows the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C but also finds that much more can be done to tackle energy-sector emissions without jeopardizing economic growth, an important concern for many governments.”

The release of the report came as nations gathered in Bonn, Germany, for a second week of talks aimed at a global climate pact—taking effect in 2020—to limit carbon emissions to 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. The report lays out four policy priorities to put the world back on track: a partial phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies, reduced natural gas venting and flaring in oil and gas production, limited use and construction of inefficient coal power generation and enactment of targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport. The policies, the report said, would stop the growth of energy-related emissions by the end of the decade.

Energy Programs in Question after Senate Farm Bill Vote

This week, the Senate approved a five-year farm bill aimed at reducing food stamps and expanding farm subsidies that are designed to help farmers through extreme weather such as droughts and floods. Attention now turns to the House, which is expected to begin debating it’s version of the bill this month. The two versions include very different provisions for clean and renewable energy programs.

Although the Senate bill does include mandatory funding for clean and renewable energy programs—the Rural Energy Assistance Program and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program—the total allotted comes to 31 percent less per year than the total provided under the 2008 Farm Bill, which was extended through September 30 as part of fiscal-cliff compromises. With the House bill, all funding for the energy programs is reauthorized at reduced and non-mandatory levels.

“The House bill would allow the programs to continue on paper with an annual appropriation, but provides no mandatory funding to operate the programs,” said Andy Olsen at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. That could result in some “very gutted programs,” he noted.

Estimates of Shale-Based Resources Rise

New analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) provides estimates for global shale gas and oil resources in the U.S. and 41 countries. The update of a two-year-old study by the EIA,  nearly doubles the number of formations that have these technically recoverable resources.

It finds that more than half of the identified shale oil resources—roughly 345 billion barrels—outside the U.S. are in Russia, China, Argentina and Libya; China, Argentina, Algeria, Canada and Mexico hold the most shale gas resources. The U.S. holds the second largest concentration of shale oil resources behind Russia and ranks fourth in shale gas resources after Algeria.

“As shale oil and shale gas production has grown in the United States to become 30 percent of oil and 40 percent of natural gas total production, interest in the oil and natural gas resource potential of shale formations outside the United States has grown,” said EIA administrator Adam Sieminski, noting that the EIA report shows “a significant potential for international shale oil and shale gas.”

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.