NOAA, Others Predict Active Atlantic Hurricane Season

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

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its predictions for hurricane activity, ahead of the official start of the storm season June 1. In the Atlantic, NOAA forecasts an active season with 13 to 20 named storms. Seven to 11 of those storms, NOAA said, could actually develop into Category 1 or higher hurricanes. As many as three to six of them have the potential to become Category 3 or higher hurricanes.

NOAA’s predictions for the 2013 hurricane season are comparable to those of other independent groups such as and Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center. All cite a similar cocktail of conditions that set the stage for a more active season.

“This year, oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic basin are expected to produce more and stronger hurricanes,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “These conditions include weaker wind shear, warmer Atlantic waters and conducive wind patterns coming from Africa.”

In 2012, when hurricanes Sandy and Isaac made landfall, there were 10 named storms. Destruction from Hurricane Sandy was so great that NOAA is now rethinking its approach to storm surge forecasts.

Meanwhile, activity in the Eastern and Central Pacific was predicted to be below normal.

Regulating Carbon Emissions

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has completed its study of the economic and environmental effects of a carbon tax, which would place a fee on oil, gas and coal with the goal of reducing harmful emissions. The report not only looks at the impact of a carbon tax, but also at how large the tax should be and how the revenue would be spent.

Taxing fossil fuels, the CBO found, would increase gasoline and power costs. Specifically, a carbon tax of $20 per ton would increase gasoline prices by about 20 cents a gallon and electricity bills by 16 percent, on average. The impact of these hikes—especially for low-income households—could be reduced or eliminated, (subscription) depending on how the revenue was spent.

In California, the cost of carbon is starting to rise. The state’s Air Resources Board held its third cap-and-trade auction, selling out 2013 permits at a record price. Still, some debate exists about how revenue from the country’s first emissions trading scheme would be spent.

Jackson to Lead Apple’s Environmental Efforts

Lisa Jackson, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, will serve as Apple’s top environmental advisor, company CEO Tim Cook announced Tuesday. Cook was going over Apple’s environmental efforts when he referenced the hire on stage at a technology conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California, noting Jackson will be coordinating efforts across the company.

“Apple has shown how innovation can drive real progress by removing toxics from its products, incorporating renewable energy in its data center plans, and continually raising the bar for energy efficiency in the electronics industry,” Jackson told the Washington Post in an e-mail. “I look forward to helping support and promote these efforts, as well as leading new ones in the future aimed at protecting the environment.”

Progress forward for Jackson’s potential successor is still in limbo, and Business Week notes that Gina McCarthy’s fate is not entirely in her own hands. In particular, much of the data that EPW Ranking Republican David Vitter is insisting be released before he would acquiesce to her consideration is not even in the control of the agency. Instead, it is possessed by Harvard University and protected by confidentiality agreements between the University and subjects of the study. The Competitive Enterprise Institute also is now suing to obtain McCarthy’s text messages from days on which she testified before Congress.

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.

A Wind Tax Credit, Indefinitely?

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In last week’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for doubling research and development funding for renewable energy. A policy document released by the White House following the State of the Union proposes making the wind production tax credit—which was renewed in January for one year as part of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff—permanent.

“To once again double generation from wind, solar and geothermal sources by 2020, the President has called on Congress to make the renewable energy production tax credit permanent and refundable, as part of a comprehensive corporate tax reform, providing incentives and certainty for investments in new clean energy,” the policy document states. Internal analysis by the American Wind Energy Association indicates phasing out the credit—over the course of six years—would give the industry the time it needs to establish a “stable base market” in the U.S.

But some in Congress have set their sights on challenging the tax credit and subjecting it to increased oversight.

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report, 100 percent of electricity capacity added in January 2013 was from renewables, with the majority coming from wind.

Vote Saves EU Trading Scheme, for Now

The world’s largest carbon market was saved from collapse this week. The European Parliament’s environment committee voted to support a proposed plan to remove a record surplus of emissions permits from their carbon trading scheme, which imposes emission limits on some 12,000 power plants and factories. The surplus—a result of the recession and factors such as an increase in carbon auctions—has driven carbon prices to an all-time low. The “backloading” plan delays the scheduled release of permits by up to five years. The vote did fail to provide a hoped-for boost to carbon allowance prices, which dropped 20 percent following the announcement.

The backloading plan still needs approval by the full European Parliament and the governments of the 27 member states.

Studies Put Arctic Ice Loss under Microscope

A reduction in summer Arctic ice cover reached a record low in 2012. But new research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters suggests this melting doesn’t stop in cooler months. It finds sea ice volumes have declined 9 percent during the winter and 36 percent during autumn months over the course of the last decade.

This widespread reduction of ice is disrupting the balance of the region’s greenhouse gases. The melting affects both the uptake and release of gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, which can end up in the soil and cause lasting negative effects.

As the ice retreats and more shipping routes are opened, access for oil and gas exploration has also become easier. The United Nations Environment Programme says the region needs to be better protected as a result. Their report, UNEP Year Book 2013, recommends using economic instruments to create financial incentives that would improve chemical safety. A better understanding of how exploration would affect the region’s ecosystems and populations, Reuters reports, is also needed before taking further steps to develop the Artic.

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.

In State of the Union Obama Targets Energy, Climate

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Amid discussion of gun control, immigration reform and deficit reduction, President Barack Obama touched on his agenda for energy and climate in his State of the Union address Tuesday. Picking up where he left off in his second inaugural address, Obama took his focus on climate change one step further, calling on Congress to enact legislation to cut carbon pollution and increase clean energy production. He made it clear he intends to act with or without lawmakers.

“But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama said. “I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take now and in the future to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Topping the list of actions for Congress: a market-based solution similar to cap-and trade legislation John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on a few years ago. A cap-and-trade system—like the one established in California—would create a cap, or limit, on industrial greenhouse gas emissions that would decrease over time. At the federal level, it died in the Senate in 2010. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer rolled out a bill that would levy a fee on large fossil fuel facilities—building off the momentum of the State of the Union (subscription required). Wednesday the Environment and Public Works Committee held a briefing to discuss the latest findings in climate science research.

During the speech, Obama offered no details on steps he would take if Congress fails to act. While there was no mention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations of power plants, The National Journal reports he is on track to use his executive authority to introduce rules for controlling carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act this year. This would go beyond mandates currently proposed for new facilities.

Energy Trust Would Drive New Research to Reduce Oil Dependence

In addition to taking executive action to curb climate change, Obama proposed using the revenues from federal oil and gas production to fund an Energy Security Trust. This trust would “drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.” The $2 billion investment would support research into a range of technologies, including homegrown biofuels and electric vehicles. It would not require expanding drilling. The Hill notes that creating such a trust would require an Act of Congress, and some Republican lawmakers are already calling the plan a “nonstarter.”

Obama also wants to work with Congress to encourage cleaner-burning natural gas. “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” he said. “We need to encourage that. And that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water.” Merrill Matthews at Forbes is skeptical of Obama’s promises to expedite the permitting process for oil and gas drilling, accusing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of withdrawing public lands that had already undergone a lengthy environmental review and been approved for oil and gas leasing.

Is the Speech a Roadmap for 2013?

The answers are mixed. Some liked what they heard. Success of the address, USA Today reports, depends on the success of the policies. The President has delivered variable results on proposals he’s put forth in four previous State of the Union addresses, reports Politico. With Republicans in control of the House, CBS News’s Brian Montopoli says a resurrection of a cap-and-trade bill like the one Obama proposed in 2009 is doubtful.

Meanwhile, a new national poll by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions suggests many Americans haven’t formed an opinion about a cap-and-trade approach; with support low, 36 percent are neither for nor against. It also found only 29 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat support a carbon tax and 64 percent strongly or somewhat favor regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and cars. However, the percentage of Americans who think the climate is changing, and that the change is a result of human activity, have reached their highest levels since 2007.

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.

Fiscal Cliff Deal Reached, Clean Energy Not Forgotten

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

After months of negotiating, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., reached an agreement to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Featured in the measure is an extension of a renewable electricity production tax credit for wind, geothermal and some biomass projects, which gives credit for each kilowatt-hour of energy they produce.

Highly contested prior to the bill’s passing was the credit’s impact on the wind industry. The credit, which offers 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of wind power production, had already expired when the deal was reached Tuesday. Its pending expiration had resulted in layoffs at United States turbine parts manufacturing plants as developers placed new projects on hold, though wind-turbine installations are predicted to exceed natural gas fueled power plants in the U.S. this year.

The tax credit has been expanded to cover wind projects that begin construction in 2013not only projects that are up and running. Lawmakers also extended credits for residential energy efficiency improvements, plug-in vehicles, energy-efficient new home construction and the production of various biofuels—including one that treats algae as a qualified feedstock.

Then, there are a few smaller items some might have missed in the new law. Among them: a $2-per-ton subsidy for coal produced on Native American lands and a credit for electric scooters. Also, electric and natural gas industries kept dividend tax rates on par with capital gains taxes.

Climate Records, Missteps

Even as many cities tied or broke weather records in 2012, climate-related coverage in the press waned, according to independent data collected by the nonprofit The Daily Climate. In fact, it dropped 2.4 percent from 2011. Among the surprises: stories linking climate change to weird weather and sea-level rise were up.

On Jan. 1 California looked to its own climate record when it began enforcing its cap-and-trade program, AB32—the first of its kind in the nation. If the program is deemed successful—cutting pollution without harming the economy, The National Journal reports, “there is every reason to think that it will pave the way for more state and national action on climate change.” The Washington Post worries about a number of things that could go wrong with the program. Among them is the issue of “leakage”—decreased emissions within California but increased emissions in other states.

The announcement of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson’s departure is expected to refocus attention on the Obama Administration’s direction on issues such as climate change and energy strategy. Among one of the most immediate: legal challenges as regulators prepare to release final rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. The agency may also face legal challenges from environmental groups who want it to propose air pollution standards for oil and gas drilling. EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe is expected to fill Jackson’s shoes, at least temporarily. Steven Cohen argues in The Huffington Post that the EPA, under any leadership, must make “the leap from environmental protection to environmental and economic sustainability.”

Energy Boom, Arctic Drilling Perils

Even amidst a drilling boom, ThinkProgress reports Americans paid more for gasoline in 2012—on average roughly nine cents more than in 2011. Tensions with Iran and refinery constraints were cited as factors in the increase. In 2013, AAA predicts prices to remain high—just not as high as in 2012.

Meanwhile, an oil rig that ran aground off the coast of Alaska has renewed debate about Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic this summer. This accident is the latest in a string of issues Shell has faced in its efforts to drill in the region. While the vessel was carrying more than 100,000 gallons of petroleum products, there has been no indication of a leak. As work to remove the rig continues, the web is abuzz with speculations about what this could mean for the future of Arctic drilling.

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

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.

Climate Change a Focus for President in Second Term

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a break from circulation Nov. 22, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. We will return Nov. 29. 

In his first press conference since being re-elected, President Barack Obama acknowledged he’ll focus on climate change in his second term. “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior, and carbon emissions,” Obama said at a televised news conference on Wednesday. “And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

Obama vowed to remain engaged in getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on a course of action on climate change, but not at the cost of jobs and economic growth. While he steered clear of making specific proposals for addressing climate change, Obama did offer this: “So what I am going to be doing over the next several weeks, the next several months, is having a conversation—a wide-ranging conversation—with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what more we can do to make short-term progress. You can expect that you will hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and help moves this agenda forward.”

Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy continues to drive attention to climate change. Most recently, a New York Daily News op-ed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated New York “will not allow the national paralysis over climate change to stop us from pursuing the necessary path for the future” and “denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects.” Cuomo’s words may follow shifting public perception if a new Zogby poll is to be believed. It found that “half of Republicans, 73 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats saying they’re worried about the growing cost and risks of extreme weather disasters fueled by climate change.”

Fiscal Cliff Renews Debate about the Environment

The environment was a focus this week as the still newly re-elected President Obama faced negotiations over a metaphorical “fiscal cliff”—when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 go into effect at the end of 2012, increasing taxes and putting in place spending cuts that could threaten environmental protections. Some have suggested a carbon tax as one means of avoiding the fiscal cliff, as it would curb climate change and help reduce the deficit. “It will be difficult for sure but we can back away from the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff at the same time,” former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said in an interview with The Guardian. “One way is with a carbon tax.” Obama didn’t specifically endorse that approach in a press conference Wednesday. According to The Hill, a Treasury Department official “did not rule out White House backing for a carbon tax as part of fiscal policy talks, but noted the administration isn’t going to propose one and that initiative would have to come from Republicans.” Earlier this week, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist suggested a “carbon tax swap”—a tax on carbon offset by an income tax cut—might not violate his no-tax pledge. After he was criticized by a Koch-backed group, he reversed the statement he made prior.

A number of environmentally focused services remain at risk should lawmakers fail to avert the fiscal cliff. Among those threatened—energy efficiency and production. Mother Nature Network reports: “Sequestration would take $148 million away from the U.S. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, according to the White House report, which Natural Resources Defense Council notes ‘would be equivalent to cutting the solar energy program at the Department of Energy in half, or equal to eliminating the entire wind and geothermal energy programs.’”

Country Eyeing California Cap-and-Trade Program

As Germany’s renewable energy institute, IWR, announced global carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.5 percent in 2011, California unveiled the nation’s first economy-wide carbon market to combat harmful emissions and potentially serve as a model for other states to fight climate change. The state’s cap-and-trade program requires businesses to purchase pollution allowances for going beyond their designated “cap” of greenhouse gases emissions. Despite a last-minute lawsuit by the California Chamber of Commerce alleging that the sale of allowances was an unconstitutional tax, the first auction moved forward.

The program was years in the making, designed with the assistance of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, among others. It is now the second largest carbon market in the world behind the European Union. ThinkProgress pointed out four important things about the program. Among them: money from auctions will be used to invest in California’s clean energy future that could reach $11 billion a year by 2020. The price for carbon will also vary as the program evolves. As The Associated Press explains: “For the first two years of the program, large industrial emitters will receive 90 percent of their allowances for free in a soft start meant to give companies time to reduce emissions through new technologies or other means. The cap, or number of allowances, will decline over time in an effort to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” The results of Wednesday’s closed, online auction will be available Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, the European Commission announced it will hold off requiring airlines based outside the European Union to pay for their carbon emissions until 2013—following threats of international retaliation. China, the United States, Russia and India opposed the charges, and the European Union plans had begun to cloud international trade relations. Around 30 governments that oppose the charges issued a joint declaration in February that cited possible retaliatory steps, such as imposing charges on European airlines.

Will the U.S. Be an Oil Giant Again?

Growing supplies of crude oil extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could transform the United States into one of the largest oil producers within the next decade. By around 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects, the U.S. will be the world’s largest global oil producer, overtaking both Russia and Saudi Arabia. It further predicts the U.S. will be virtually self-sufficient within 25 years. The implications are many. “There is a shift in competitiveness,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. If production forecasts are borne out, “it will have a major impact on the return of industry to United States.”

Gas prices, however, are falling—reaching numbers we haven’t seen since 2011.

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.

Hurricane Isaac Disrupts Energy Production, Stirs Old Wounds

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

While Hurricane Isaac managed to leave Gulf oil platforms largely untouched, New Orleans’ strengthened levees were put to the test as the storm made landfall on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

More than 90 percent of all oil production and roughly 66 percent of all gas output was shut down as a precautionary measure as Isaac approached the Louisiana coast Tuesday. As the hurricane weakened into a tropical storm on land, reducing the threat to offshore production, energy prices dropped. Gasoline prices rose by roughly five cents nationwide—the largest one-day jump in gas prices in 18 months just as the holiday weekend approaches. Though losses will be less than other storms, Reuters reports a $1 billion economic loss for offshore energy.

Oil production in the Gulf is expected to return to normal quickly; nonetheless, the Group of Seven (G7) urged oil-producing countries to raise output to ensure the market was well supplied. The G7 has said it is ready to release oil from strategic reserves, perhaps as soon as September. The International Energy Agency has dropped its opposition to the plan, which has been spearheaded by the U.S.

As Hurricane Isaac continues to churn in the Gulf region, it could stir up remnants of up to 1 million barrels of crude oil that leaked into the ocean as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness warned coastal residents that oil material—such as tar balls—could wash ashore.

Meanwhile, tropical storm Kirk became the Atlantic’s 11th named storm of 2012, a feat typically not reached until closer to the end of hurricane season in November. A study in the journal Atmospheric Science Letters suggests hurricanes could be stopped if the clouds that float above hurricane-forming regions were brightened.

Rule Promotes Cleaner Cars

A new fuel economy rule that will nearly double the efficiency of the nation’s cars and trucks to a fleet-wide average of 54.5 miles per gallon over the next 13 years was finalized by the Obama administration this week. The requirements of the rule will be phased in gradually between now and then, and automakers could face fines for non-compliance.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate the rule will increase the average price of a vehicle by $1,800 in 2025. Consumers could save an estimated $5,700 to $7,400 in gasoline over the life of the vehicle. Additionally, the rule is expected to save 4 billion barrels of oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 billion metric tons.

The rule, some argued, doesn’t come without consequences. Higher-efficiency vehicles that consume less fuel could reduce revenues from the gasoline tax 21 percent by 2040. As a result, spending on road repairs could decline.

Forbes says regardless of the high 54.5 mpg requirement, your average will likely be closer to 40 mpg.

Deal Creates Largest Carbon Market

The European Union will link its “cap-and-trade” system with Australia’s carbon market, creating the largest emissions trading scheme in the world. A partial link of the two markets will begin in July 2015, and the association will be complete by 2018. The deal will not only provide a boost for the declining European market, but also allow Australian companies to buy cheaper credits from the European Union.

In the U.S., California will open the country’s first full-scale carbon market in November. Before then, the California Air Resources Board plans to hold a practice auction—testing its electronic platform for selling carbon allowances to companies. The practice auction comes in the middle of a political debate over whether the state should auction revenues at all.

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.

Federal Court Tosses EPA’s ‘Good Neighbor’ Pollution Rule

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this week threw out the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which set stricter limits on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-burning power plants in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

In a 2–1 ruling, the panel held the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act by requiring upwind states to reduce more than their “fair share” of pollution that degrades air quality in neighboring states. The court also rejected CSAPR for prematurely imposing on states a federal plan for reducing such air pollution. The dissenting judge criticized the majority for exceeding the court’s jurisdictional limits and disregarding well-settled legal precedent.

Having vacated CSAPR, the D.C. Circuit ordered the EPA to draft new rules. In the interim, the EPA must continue implementing the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which was vacated in 2008. The EPA said it will review the ruling before “determining the appropriate course of action,” but some expect the agency to appeal. Otherwise, the job of rewriting the rules will fall to the second Obama Administration or the first Romney Administration.

Environmental and health advocates see the ruling as a setback for air quality, as the EPA predicted the rule would help cut nationwide sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent of 2005 levels and cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent. Some states, including Texas, celebrated the verdict as a victory against overreaching regulation by the EPA. The impact of the court’s decision on coal-fired power plants is unclear, as coal plants still must comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and compete with low natural gas prices.

Arctic Ice Melt Could Set Record

With two more weeks left in the melting season, some scientists are saying ice in the Arctic Ocean could reach its smallest size yet. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center predict we could see the ice retreat to less than 1.5 million square miles—39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000.

Unusually warm weather in Greenland has triggered widespread surface melt and darkened the lower portions of the country’s ice sheet. This trend, according to Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing analyst at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, could increase the probability of widespread melting in the future.

Carbon Emissions at 20-Year Low

In early 2012, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were at their lowest since 1992, the Energy Information Administration reported. The report attributed the decline to a combination of three factors: a decline in coal generation due to low natural gas prices, reduced household heating demand as a result of an unusually warm winter and low gasoline demand. The New Scientist reported the fall will boost the natural gas industry, but won’t slow climate change. Another new report, which examined 2,500 power plants operated by 100 utilities in the U.S., also found a marked decline in carbon dioxide and other pollutants, primarily as a result of natural gas displacing coal in the nation’s energy mix. The report also found that the utilities’ use of renewables has doubled since 2004.

Most of the new capacity added in 33 states in the first half of the year used natural gas or renewable energy sources—with the majority built over the last 15 years powered by natural gas or wind. Other forms of renewables, such as solar water heating, which could provide cost savings and fewer carbon emissions, have been largely overlooked (subscription required). The potential applications for solar heating units, ClimateWire reports, span from restaurants to large-scale projects like hotels, hospitals, government offices and educational campuses. Pilot customer-side clean projects—like the solar water heating and combined heat and power projects detailed in recent case studies by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions—could help others learn. As Renewable Energy World reports, “solar is contagious.”

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 Moves Ahead with Oil Sanctions as Gas Prices Climb

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Before Congress headed home for spring recess, the Senate, with a rate vote of 100, approved President Obama’s new round of sanctions designed to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The president’s decision was based on an analysis of current oil supply and the likely effect of further sanctions on prices. The Senate also shot down the president’s bid to reduce subsidies to oil producers.

Oil prices have climbed this year amid lingering tensions with Iran, with the price of gas now averaging around $3.92 a gallon—and experts are warning more increases are on the way. The U.S., France and other nations are considering the release of some emergency oil supplies to stop further rises in prices. Experts are skeptical about the impact tapping the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve would have on prices. Reuters reports that with this decision, timing is everything.

Back home in their districts, legislators are using oil prices to fuel campaign rhetoric. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, is finding photo ops at the pump, pumping $100 into his Chevy Suburban. Meanwhile, La Tarndra Strong, who manages a trucking company in North Carolina, said high fuel prices are slicing her razor-thin margin.

Officials Eye Cap-and-Trade Revenues for Transit

In California, some officials are eyeing revenues from the state’s cap-and-trade system to get drivers out of their cars. The cap is envisioned as a financial backstop to the state’s high-speed rail plan. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget indicates that cap-and-trade could provide up to $1 billion in revenue. Building high-speed rail up and down the Golden State could be just one plan for cap-and-trade monies. Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez advocates using revenues to boost clean tech, while State Sen. Kevin de León wants to see at least 10 percent of the revenues be put toward greenhouse gas reduction projects in disadvantaged communities. Some farm groups, meanwhile, are vying for funds to go to supporting agricultural practices that cut greenhouse gases.

Further north, Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation helping to shield drivers from liability who lend their cars as part of the nation’s burgeoning car share movement. Whereas some companies such as Zipcar and Car2go provide fleets for sharing, person-to-person programs use software to link individuals who want to rent out their cars to people who need a short-term lift. But most automobile insurance companies currently cancel the policies of drivers who are part of this growing “collaborative consumption” movement.

Nuclear Worries Continue as Wind Farms Appear on Horizon

Federal investigators have kept a troubled Southern California nuclear reactor closed as they investigate why tubes carrying radioactive water are decaying rapidly. Concern is mounting in nearby coastal cities—fueled by Fukushima fears—prompting some to call for the plant’s permanent closure. Germany accelerated its timetable for moving off nuclear in response to last year’s tragedy in Japan. Two plants to be built in Britain are the latest to fizzle. But phasing out nuclear may not boost renewables.

The U.K.’s Shetland Island could be home to the world’s most productive wind farm after receiving approval to move ahead with construction Wednesday. In the U.S., an offshore wind turbine in Virginia may be the first in the country. Five states have reached an agreement to speed the approval process for offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes.

Apple unveiled plans for the nation’s largest private fuel cell energy project. The project will power a data center using hydrogen extracted from natural gas.

Scientists Dissect Causes of “Weather Weirding”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that March’s “meteorological madness” with record-setting highs was due mostly to freakishly random factors, with only a small assist from human-induced climate change. IPS calls this “extreme weather” the new normal, and there may be more crazy weather in our future. The changes are causing some scientists to look to the ice.

A paper now out in Nature shows how increased CO2 in the atmosphere led to a series of sudden and extreme global warming events that occurred between about 55.5 and 52 million years ago.

Stopping climate change would cost consumers pennies per day, a new U.K. study concludes.

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 Makes Historic Announcement: First Greenhouse Gas Rule for New Power Plants

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released long-awaited greenhouse gas rules for new power plants this week. Using the Clean Air Act, the agency standard would set the first national limits on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions new power plants can emit. The EPA proposed the rule after delaying it several times since July 2011.

Power plants are the largest source of  CO2 in the nation, accounting for approximately 40 percent of these emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration. The rule basically requires new coal plants to emit the same amount of CO2 as an average plant fueled by natural gas—causing U.S. coal shares to slip following the announcement. While some in Congress already are threatening to nullify the rule, plummeting natural gas prices had much of the same effect, driving the decline of existing coal-fired facilities and giving way to power plants fueled by natural gas.

The news was met with mixed reactions. Some were calling it the “demise of coal-fired power generation” and a “job killer,” while others viewed it as a step in the right direction to fight climate change.

Energy: At What Cost?

The New York Times describes how technological breakthroughs in natural gas and oil extraction, coupled with efficiency, are “inching” the U.S. toward energy independence—but at what environmental cost? Nearly two years after an explosion on an offshore oil platform sent millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, deepwater drilling is picking up. But a leak on an oil rig in the North Sea prompted some to think back to BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster, the world’s worst marine oil spill. Although this leak doesn’t appear to be as serious as the BP spill, some are predicting it could take six months before the problem is fixed.

Meanwhile a new survey says 63 percent of Americans think it’s possible to develop shale oil reserves without harming the environment. But it appears the controversial drilling method may undermine attempts to store carbon dioxide underground.

Energy and environment also took center stage in Santa Barbara as CEOs of industry and environmental organizations converged at the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference. Repeated throughout the conference was the idea that public policy is inadequate to the task of tackling the world’s energy challenges. Yet when pressed, Tesla Motors founder and clean tech notable Elon Musk said public policies such as a carbon tax are “ideal.”

Carbon Caps: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

In California, where the nation’s only economy-wide cap-and-trade program is moving forward, officials announced plans to postpone the program’s first allowance auction from Aug. 15 to Nov. 14. The later start date will give California more time to link its program with that of its Western Climate Initiative (WCI) partner, Quebec. WCI just appointed Anita Burke as organization’s first executive director. Forward progress will be challenging because of a lawsuit challenging the cap’s use of offsets, or reductions outside the cap. The lawsuit alleges that offsets represent reductions that would have occurred with or without public policies.

Meanwhile the U.S. airline industry dropped its unsuccessful lawsuit against Europe’s cap-and-trade program. The European Union emission trading scheme seeks to bring airlines taking off and landing in Europe under its emissions cap. Airlines would be required to purchase allowances at auction. The move comes as European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard quietly visited Washington this week to discuss transatlantic climate issues, including U.S. airlines’ opposition to the program.

In dueling opinion pieces, the Washington Post renews calls for a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, while the Wall Street Journal says models cannot pin much to climate during the past decade. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has attempted to more accurately model the future impacts of climate change.

Extreme weather—the same that may be bringing bats to Texas and causing birds to adjust their ranges—is linked to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, according to two reports. In fact, climate change is amplifying risk of storms, rising seas and floods—particularly in small island states and poor regions. Reports such as these have spurred an effort to identify trees that could thrive as climate change develops. Human-caused climate change may also further the spread of Chagas’ disease and potentially worsen autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, impairing cognitive function, according to new studies. The latter study found that warmer temperatures lower mental processing speeds and memory recall.

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.