European Union Rejects Carbon Market Solution

On April 18, 2013, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
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 next week. We will return to regular postings May 2. 

The European Union Parliament rejected a proposal to backload the auctioning of credits within its Emissions Trading Scheme this week. The proposed “backloading” plan would have removed a surplus of emissions permits from the world’s largest carbon market—potentially saving it from collapse and making fossil fuels more expensive for utilities and factories to burn. The surplus, partly a result of the recession, had driven carbon prices down from 25 euros in 2008 to just 5 euros per ton in February. As a result, the permits were no longer doing their intended job of encouraging manufacturers and utilities to invest in cleaner fuels and new technology. Announcement of the ruling sent permit prices to their lowest yet and dealt a blow to partner Australia. The country intends to link to the EU carbon market in 2015.

“We will continue with our plans to link with the European emissions trading scheme from 1 July, 2015,” said Australia Climate Minister Greg Combet. “But this year’s budget, as is usual practice by Treasury, will include a revised forecast for a carbon price in 2015-16.”

On Wednesday, EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard vowed to fight to save the system through new measures that include restricting rights to carbon permits and allowing for reviews of the number of permits companies receive for free.

EPA Says U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Declined

A new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests greenhouse gas emissions in the United States dropped 1.6 percent from 2010 to 2011. Since 2005, that number has decreased 6.9 percent. The agency attributed the drop to factors such as improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency and mild winter weather.

Electricity generation by power plants was termed the largest source of emissions, accounting for 33 percent of the 2011 total, according to the report. The EPA missed an April 13 deadline to issue a final rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, instead delaying release indefinitely on Friday. In its draft form, the rule would have made building new coal plants difficult. The Washington Post indicated that the EPA will alter the rule to better withstand legal challenge, including potentially establishing separate standards for gas-fired and coal-fired plants.

Meanwhile, little progress has been made to reduce the carbon content of the world’s energy supply over the last two decades, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). In its third annual report tracking clean energy progress, the IEA found the resurgence of coal counters many of the greenhouse gas benefits of clean energy production. “The drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “Despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago.” Renewables are a bright spot in the data, which reveal that solar and wind technologies grew by 42 and 19 percent, respectively, from 2011 to 2012.

Nuclear Leak Prompts Review, New Guidelines

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has begun reviewing the decommissioning process for Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the site of a 2011 nuclear meltdown following a tsunami. Multiple leaks have been detected at the plant, and the IAEA will be analyzing the melted reactors and radiation levels.

The EPA, meanwhile, has been prompted by the disaster to rewrite rules to enlarge the focus of U.S. nuclear disaster response beyond immediate emergency response to long-term cleanup efforts. A new draft of recommended procedures will address the duration of evacuations, limits to radiation exposure over time and other concerns.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Senate confirmation hearings for Ernest Moniz and Gina McCarthy—President Barack Obama’s appointees to oversee the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—began this week.

For Moniz, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist, committee grilling started Tuesday. Natural gas exports were a popular topic throughout Moniz’s hearing—signaling his likely support for exports as a way to combat climate change. With some pressing, Moniz said he was open to reviewing a recent study commissioned by the DOE that found boosting natural-gas exports would yield economic benefits for the United States. The analysis has received some criticism for using outdated information and not fully examining the regional effects of exporting liquefied natural gas to markets in Europe and Asia. “We certainly want to make sure that we are using data that is relevant to the decision at hand,” Moniz said.

While Moniz ducked questions about his support of a carbon tax, he did endorse Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy and said he would push for renewable energy if he was confirmed. “The increase in U.S. unconventional oil production, combined with increased vehicle efficiency, will continue to reduce American oil imports and reduce our trade deficit,” said Moniz. “New technology development and deployment can and must further reduce the associated environmental footprint.”

In all, Politico reports, the hearing went smoothly for the former DOE undersecretary, and Moniz looks to be on the path for approval (subscription) that may refocus the department on its research and development roots. McCarthy’s hearing began at 10:30 ET today and focused on the practices of the EPA and the future of coal. Republicans also pushed her (subscription) on transparency, the use of fictitious e-mails and the science of decision making.

Sally Jewell, Obama’s pick for Interior Secretary, won Senate confirmation Wednesday.

Release of 2014 Budget Details Energy Priorities

The hearings—which put the focus on Obama’s regulatory agenda—come amid the unveiling of Obama’s roughly $3.8 trillion budget proposal, which shed light on Obama’s spending priorities.

Set to begin October 1, the budget would boost clean-tech spending by 40 percent over current levels, cut net oil imports in half by 2020 and seek to eliminate some tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. It also includes the $2 billion Energy Security Trust, which aims to shift America’s cars and trucks off oil entirely by investing in research for advances in electricity, domestically produced natural gas and homegrown biofuels. Moniz hinted in his Tuesday confirmation hearing that the United States spends too little on energy research—a statement The Washington Post examined in depth.

Climate Science in Education Standards Released this Week

New national science teaching guidelines, delving more deeply into the science of climate change, were released Tuesday. The Next Generation Science Standards were developed by a consortium of 26 state governments and several groups representing scientists and teachers. The guidelines are the first set of science standards to come out in 15 years and push more “critical thinking” and less memorization.

“There was never a debate about whether climate change would be in there,” said Heidi Schweingruber of the National Research Council, one of the key organizations responsible for development of the guidelines. “It is a fundamental part of science, and so that’s what our work is based on, the scientific consensus.”

Although states are not required to adopt the rules, 26 states—including Arizona, California, Iowa, Kansas and New York—are considering doing so.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday announced its proposed Tier 3 rules, which would reduce allowable amounts of sulfur in gasoline and help automobiles’ catalytic converters capture more pollutants. The new measures would reduce sulfur in gasoline by more than 60 percent—from the present average of 30 parts per million to 10 parts per million by 2017—an environmental benefit comparable to taking 33 million cars off the road. The EPA measure would increase the price of gasoline by less than a penny per gallon but deliver up to $23 billion in health benefits by 2030, according to The Washington Post. The oil industry, however, points to its own study, which suggests a 6 to 9 cent rise per gallon. Under the plan, fuel vapor emissions would drop to nearly zero, making it easier for the auto industry to meet tougher standards for new-car tailpipe emissions.

The Tier 3 standards would yield gasoline sulfur levels similar to levels already being achieved in California, Japan, South Korea and other countries in Europe and elsewhere, according to the EPA. The proposed rules will soon be open for public comment.

The EPA also issued the final rule for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for new coal- and oil-fired power plants—raising limits slightly from those laid out in December 2011. The final rule sets mercury emissions limits at 0.003 pound/GWh, up from 0.0002 pound/GWh in the previous rule.

The agency also filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to review a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that tossed out the Cross State Air Pollution Rule. The rule required cuts in soot and smog-forming pollution that blows across state lines.

Spills Thrust Keystone XL into the Spotlight

Two oil spills, one in Arkansas from a pipeline rupture and one in Minnesota from a train derailment, stirred new criticism of and debate about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The fuel passing through Keystone is the same type that leaked from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in Arkansas, a fact that prompted some environmental groups to promise protests should President Barack Obama approve the project. Keystone has also been criticized by scientist James Hansen, who retired from NASA this week to pursue campaigning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even so, a new poll shows broad bipartisan support for the pipeline, with 66 percent favoring its approval and construction. Obama told House Republicans last month that a decision on Keystone XL would come soon.

U.S. Coal Use Rising

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), natural gas prices have risen significantly, increasing coal-fired electric generation. In fact, the EIA finds natural gas prices have risen 50 percent since April 2012. If prices continue to climb, the agency predicts coal use will increase 18 percent by 2040.

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.