Court Upholds EPA Climate Rules

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke UniversitThe Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A federal appeals court this week upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules governing greenhouse gases. In the landmark ruling, judges rejected a series of lawsuits challenging the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, acknowledging that the agency is “unambiguously correct” in its use of the law.

Members of industry and 14 states had initially challenged the rules. The ruling clears the way for the agency to move forward limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, cars and other large industrial sources using the Clean Air Act. Under the rules, EPA requires new and expanding facilities to use obtain construction and operating permits. This is in addition to  tailpipe rules, which set mileage and emissions standards for new vehicles.

EPA’s most suspect rule—the tailoring rule that would allow smaller sources to go unpermitted—also was allowed to stand because no litigant had standing to challenge it. Responding to challengers’ assertions that striking the rule would cure their injury because the onerous regulatory regime would force Congress  to enact “corrective legislation” to relieve permitting burdens caused by the new rules, the court cited the 1975 Schoolhouse Rock song, “I’m Just a Bill”—and even linked to the video in its ruling. For now, attorneys for those involved in the lawsuit are reviewing the decision and are “likely to either seek a rehearing before the full D.C. Circuit or possibly file for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

While the Rio+20 Earth Summit ended with weak text calling for the world to move to a “green economy and phase out fossil fuels,” a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests leaders forgo such meetings because tackling global climate change is as easy as scaling up what countries and states are already doing. CNN reports the U.S. is in fact managing to curb some carbon emissions due, in part, to cheap natural gas, the economy and investments in energy efficiency.

Sea Levels Rise Globally, East Coast to Take Hardest Hit

Around the world, sea levels are rising. Nowhere are they rising faster than the United States’ East Coast, according to scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey. When compared to global averages since 1990, the Atlantic Ocean is rising, annually, three to four times faster than in other areas of the world. Several cities along the 600-mile stretch running from North Carolina to Massachusetts are experiencing significant jumps, including Norfolk, Va., and Philadelphia, with spikes of 4.8 inches and 3.7 inches, respectively.

North Carolina—which was considering a bill forbidding the use of models that include accelerating sea level rise—would experience an even higher sea level threat than the 39-inch increase by 2100 a panel of state experts predicted in 2010. That bill has since been rejected by the House of Representatives, but lawmakers continue to work on another version.

New studies are not just threatening the East Coast—they reflect changes on the West Coast as well. A National Research Council report describes a rise of several inches over the next two decades, and more as the years go on. Southern and central California will be the hardest hit, with a rise of six inches by 2030. Oregon and Washington will see less dramatic changes of four inches in the same window, then two feet by 2100.

BP Expanding after Spill

BP was among the biggest spenders at a recent auction of Central Gulf oil leases—the first since the 2010 Gulf spill—laying down millions and winning 43 leases. This is amid new studies linking the BP oil spill to accelerated loss of Louisiana marshland, which is eroding at twice the rate of non-oiled marshes, as well as a large numbers of spill claims.


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.

Rio+20 Pushes on with Weak Text, Mixed Predictions

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Delegates from around the world are meeting in Rio de Janeiro to discuss how to make the planet more sustainable, despite a rapidly growing population. The reprise of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit dubbed “Rio+20” has so far drawn mixed reactions: some call it an “opportunity”; others say it is another step on a long, complicated road to realizing a more sustainable society. William K. Reilly, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and chairman of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Board of Advisors chose to reflect on then and now, noting the two decades since leaders first met in Rio the “concept of sustainable development has evolved from theory to increasingly common practice.” BBC News illustratesjust how much the world has changed since the first Earth Summit.

Late Monday night, negotiators did agree on a draft framework for sustainable development goals. The text is not expected to change much when heads of state convene to discuss it, according to U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern.

As The Washington Post reported, many of the concrete steps needed to move toward a more sustainable future are already being take on by major cities regardless of the outcome at Rio+20. The efforts of these 58 cities will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 248 million tons in 2020. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes energy has a big role and introduced the “Sustainable Energy for All Plan” in Rio, which would end energy poverty by 2030.

Despite what’s happening in Rio, a new poll indicates many Americans believe there’s been an environmental decline in the last 10 years and they are attributing it to human activity.

Japan Sets Sights on Solar Future

As it shifts from nuclear power following the Fukushima radiation disaster, Japan is positioning itself to become the second largest market for solar power. The country introduced incentives for renewable energy that could expand revenue in this area to more than $30 billion by 2016. In the U.K., energy from renewable sources accounted for roughly 12.4 percent of the European Union’s overall consumption, with Estonia recording the largest increase between 2006 and 2010.

Germany, who also opted to move away from nuclear by 2022, is feeling the burden of its decision. Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at Berlin Free University, said, “The way for Germany to compete in the long run is to become the most energy-efficient and resource-efficient market, and to expand on an export market in the process.” If Germany succeeds, Technology Review reported, it could provide a workable blueprint for other industrialized nations.

A new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds the prospects for renewable energy, at least in the U.S., to be promising—concluding it could supply 80 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050.

Moratorium Mulled after Defeat of NC Sea Level Rise Bill

The North Carolina House of Representatives this week rejected a Senate bill that would have prohibited policy makers from using projections of accelerated sea level rise for coastal development planning purposes. This may lead lawmakers to enact a moratorium on such predictions pending further study by the state, which could take years. NewScientist breaks down the evidence of sea level rise in the state.

The EPA has turned down a demand by U.S. environmental groups to issue new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, ships and off-road vehicles, saying it “does not have the resources to consider all possible sources of climate change in the near or medium term.” Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday defeated a proposed measure that would have overturned EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, or MATS, a rule aimed at limiting emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants. It will be the first federal standard to regulate toxic emissions from these plants, and is projected to result in coincident greenhouse gas reductions. A recent poll suggests most Americans favor the rule—provided that companies are given enough time to comply.

Public companies in the U.K.—some 1,600 in all—may soon have to divulge all details about the greenhouse gases they emit, according to the Guardian. More companies may face the requirement, beginning as early as April 2013, after the policy is reviewed in 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.


Reach of BP Oil Spill Still Strong Two Years Later

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

BP has made headlines again, two years after the Gulf oil spill. For the spill, the company stands to pay billions of dollars in environmental fines under the Clean Water Act; a new study indicates thousands of jobs could be created along the coast if those funds were used for coastal restoration. Specifically, if $1.5 billion per year over the course of the next decade were spent on coastal restoration, it could result in close to 57,000 jobs. Penalty figures are still being decided.

As Hollywood actors are clenched in a legal battle over technology that may have helped clean the Gulf following the spill, federal investigators are looking at whether BP officials lied to Congress about just how much oil was actually leaking between April 20 and July 15, 2010. Internal e-mails, to the highest levels of BP, show a struggle over well flow and reveal that some company engineers warned early on that size estimates of the undersea leak might be too low. Meanwhile, another set of recently released e-mails—some 3,000 to be exact—is stirring up controversy. In a Boston Globe op-ed two Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientists detail how they reluctantly acceded to BP’s demands for confidential e-mails detailing the scientific process they used to calculate oil flow rate following a court order. The scientists cited concerns over “not simply invasion of privacy, but the erosion of the scientific deliberative process.” BP’s request for access to White House e-mails related to the spill, however, was denied.

While people are beginning to return to the Gulf to vacation and Gulf leases to oil and gas companies are on sale for the first time since the spill, the tiny microbes that once inhabited the area’s beach sands still haven’t bounced back.

Negotiators Face Stumbling Blocks on Way to Rio+20

Spring in the U.S. has been the warmest since record keeping started in 1895. As temperatures rise, representatives from some 135 heads of state will be present when United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20 Earth Summit, begins June 20. A newly surfaced document indicates there may be some difficulty reaching a blueprint for sustainable development that all can agree on. Specifically, just 20 percent of the wording in the draft—addressing everything from corporate sustainability reporting to universal access to clean energy—has been agreed upon. With the deadline for negotiations soon approaching, WWF director general Jim Leape worried about the prospect of “an agreement so weak it is meaningless, or complete collapse.”

In a recent interview with Yale e360, the International Energy Agency’s Fatih Birol urges countries to band together to address dangerous rises in global temperatures. “Individual efforts of countries or sectors will not bring us to 2 degrees,” said Birol. “And if the trends continue like this, we can very soon kiss goodbye to a 2-degree trajectory.”

Despite worldwide criticism, a senate panel in North Carolina approved a bill that would prohibit some scientific data to be used to predict future sea level rise. The current bill allows only the state’s Coastal Resources Commission to calculate the rate of rise using historic data, not projections of sea level rise from climate change. The senate went on to approve the controversial bill Tuesday by a vote of 35-12. Virginia appears to have taken a similar approach. Lawmakers there have commissioned a study of the coastline, only after references to climate change were removed.

The New Hampshire legislature passed a bill that would pave the way for the state to exit the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), but the law would require that two other states leave the cap-and-trade pact first. New England’s emissions have fallen recently—supporters of the cap-and-trade pact attribute this RGGI; others say cheap natural gas explains the decrease. “Natural gas has changed the complexion of the whole situation,” said the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Brian Murray. Meanwhile, a New York judge has dismissed a lawsuit that would have ended that state’s participation in RGGI.

U.S. Energy Output Soars

As global energy consumption grew 2.5 percent worldwide, so did the United States’ energy output, as the U.S. became the world’s largest natural gas producer and its oil output grew more than any nation outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Meanwhile, two industry groups have come out with a study indicating the Obama administration has overestimated methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the first regulations for fracking in April.

North Carolina is closer to legalizing hydraulic fracturing, despite new evidence that the state’s reserves might be much smaller than previously thought. New Jersey is looking to restrict wastewater treatment plants from accepting water used in hydraulic fracturing—claiming it could harm water supplies.

Hydraulic fracturing is not the only energy method in the spotlight. A new U.N. report shows global investment in renewable energy is at a record high. In fact, in 2011 it was up 17 percent to $257 billion—with solar investment surging past wind to take the lead.

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.


North Carolina Legislature Mulls Ban on Sea Level Rise Projections

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The link between climate change and sea level rise, already well established, has been reinforced by recent studies. But sea level rise also made headlines in a more unusual way recently after some North Carolina legislators introduced a bill that would call into question some of the scientific projections related to sea level rise in the state. Specifically, their draft legislation would “prohibit state and local government agencies from using projections of accelerated sea level rise—due mainly to global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps—when forming coastal development policies and regulations.”

The document has drawn criticism across the world, even finding a spot on the popular spoof television show The Colbert Report. Duke University’s Bill Chameides characterized it as an attempt to “legislate away” what is possibly “the greatest threat that climate change poses to North Carolina.” The Senate’s Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hear the bill today.

Elsewhere, rising temperatures are being blamed for the transformation of more shrubs into trees in the northwestern Eurasian tundra. According to a Reuters report, the advancing of such forests could negatively impact the climate—increasing warming by as much as 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. And in other remote parts of the Arctic, scientists have recorded what’s been labeled a climate milestone—carbon dioxide levels above the level of 400 parts per million. It’s a measurement some scientists believe hasn’t been reached in roughly 800,000 years.

Climate’s Effect on Energy

Warming waters and reduced river flows in the United States and Europe could have a significant impact on power generation, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Rising temperatures, the study said, would affect coal and nuclear plants dependent on rivers for cooling during production. In the U.S. alone, capacity could fall as much as 16 percent on warmer days between 2031 and 2060.

While coal use dropped to 34 percent in March—its lowest level since January 1973—so did the U.S. utility industry’s confidence in the energy source. In fact, in a survey of utility industry executives, 56 percent said coal had a future as a fuel source, down from 82 percent in 2010. Confidence in renewables, however, was higher at 96 percent.

Or maybe executives won’t have to choose. One new technology, out this week, claims to be equipped to produce cost-effective electric power with little to no emissions from any fuel source.

In Japan, solar makers are betting a new feed-in tariff could help the country boost power generation from solar past its current 1 percent. The tariff program is set to launch next month. Meanwhile, in the U.K. the use of solar and wind power as a source of secondary income for farmers is gaining popularity. The move, according to the National Farmers’ Union, could be a major contributor to profitable farming.

Emission Stunners

Despite congressional deadlock, new International Energy Administration (IEA) data indicates the U.S. leads the world in CO2 emission cuts since 2006. The IEA cited lower oil use and a shift from coal to gas as factors in the 7.7 percent cut.

Negotiations for a new climate treaty that would help to reduce emissions worldwide fizzled in Bonn, Germany recently. The deadlock was a result of disputes among rich and poor countries over technicalities—namely how to divide the burden of emissions cuts between developed and developing nations.

Cities are the solution to addressing climate change, according to a new infographic by C40 cities. Cities across the world are creating plans to reduce emissions. Where are climate change plans more prevalent? In places prone to natural disasters, increasing temperatures and rainfall variability such as Latin America. In fact, 95 percent of Latin American cities are planning for climate change. In New York, rooftops are being transformed—speckled with solar panels, coated with white paint and even plants—to make them more climate-friendly. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is expected to extend a 100 percent green electricity option to customers this month.

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.