Last week, the U.S. EPA released a historic proposal for new rules to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, a step toward meeting the ambitious national goal of reducing these emissions 40 to 45 percent in the next decade. California is a step ahead, with new regulations already in development to cut methane from oil and gas operations within its borders.
Even as the rest of the nation begins to catch up, it’s critical that California continues to move forward with developing state standards that complement the federal rules, and go even further when necessary.
Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are a massive problem – the industry emits more than 7 million tons of the potent greenhouse gas each year, equivalent to the 20-year climate impact of 160 coal-fired power plants. And the latest scientific research indicates the problem is even bigger than we think. For example, a study published just last week says previously unrecorded emissions from thousands of gathering facilities are eight times higher than estimates, and would increase the current inventory of methane emissions by almost 25 percent. Read More
Cutting gas and diesel use in California has been a focus of Sacramento policy makers for years. After all, fuel combustion chokes our state with exhaust, releases a massive amount of global warming pollution, and undermines our economic security. And, at nearly 20 billion gallons of total use per year costing drivers over $50 billion a year – with much of the money flowing directly out of the state – it is no small challenge.
Despite many in-state efforts to cut gas and diesel use over the past decade, population and economic growth have erased many of the fuel use reductions achieved. This year, through dedication by Governor Brown and the legislature to fight climate change and make California stronger, there are promising solutions on the horizon. The solution making the biggest splash is SB 350 (De León) – a bill currently before the legislature – proposing (among other things) a statewide goal of 50 percent petroleum use reduction by the year 2030. With this ambitious goal, California can and will make real progress towards meeting its transportation needs using less oil for the years to come.
Understanding how California can meet a 50 percent petroleum use reduction goal by 2030, and why this goal is good for the state, hinges on four key concepts (explained in more detail here). Read More
Today, a group of major investors from across the country, who manage more than $1.5 trillion in assets, issued a letter calling for strong rules to limit harmful methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Among them are California’s two biggest retirement funds – CalPERS and CalSTERS, which together manage nearly $500 billion in funds on behalf of approximately one and a half million members.
The powerful statement issued by the group of investors calls out the “serious threat” methane poses to climate stability, saying that it compelled them to support action on the issue to avoid near term threats to “infrastructure and economic harm that will weaken not only the companies we invest in, but the nation as a whole.”
California’s Leadership Role
Although the investors’ letter focuses on national rules, the relevance to California cannot be overlooked as the state has, over the past year, taken a leadership position on regulating harmful methane emissions from oil and gas operations. For example, California is currently developing new rules at the California Public Utilities Commissions (CPUC) to reduce methane emissions in the natural gas supply chain, and a new statewide plan and regulations are being developed at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to limit methane emissions from oil and gas production. Read More
Earlier this year in Oregon, as they did in California several years ago, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), together with American Trucking Alliance (ATA) and Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), filed a federal lawsuit to try and derail a cutting-edge, scientifically-based, and legally sound clean fuel standard. Not discouraged by their recent losses challenging California’s clean fuels program (the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, or LCFS) in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court, the plaintiffs have proceeded with nearly identical constitutional law arguments – simply recycling issues and claims that were rejected many months ago.
Like the California LCFS, the Oregon Clean Fuels Program reduces the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by requiring fuel sold in state to have reduced lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Compliance is based on the schedule developed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Protection and designed to spur innovation in the fuel sector, as the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard has already done. The fuels program itself does not choose a formula for carbon reduction, but allows the market to find the best path forward.
A significant portion of Oregon’s climate pollution comes from the use of gasoline and diesel in transportation, as it does in many other U.S. states, and it’s high time for Oregonians to have access to cleaner burning, lower carbon alternative fuels. Once in use, these alternatives not only cut climate pollution, they also deliver reduced emissions of multiple air contaminants that damage the health of the public while also improving energy security. In light of these substantial benefits to the people and economy of Oregon, on March 12, 2015, Governor Kate Brown signed a bill passed by the state legislature that removes the sunset date established in the 2009 law, allowing the Oregon Clean Fuels Program to move forward unimpeded. Read More
A great thing happened today for the environment and people of California. On the very day we released new maps measuring methane leaking from natural gas lines under Los Angeles-area streets, the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) announced they would begin publishing their own maps showing the locations of leaks they find on their system.
It is a positive move that brings the company a big step closer to complying with the California law requiring them to publish not only the whereabouts of known leaks, but also the amount of methane escaping (which their newly announced maps do not). The public has a right to know where and how much harmful air pollution is being emitted by SoCalGas and any other company in California.
It is precisely the ability to accurately measure this leak rate quickly and cost effectively that makes Environmental Defense Fund’s mapping project so important for the natural gas utility industry, and it is the reason we have spent nearly three years working with Google Earth Outreach and researchers at Colorado State University to pilot this important technology (which we plan to make available on an open source basis).
Methane is a potent climate pollutant, packing 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. That means it is both a serious challenge, and a major opportunity to make a big dent in our total greenhouse emissions quickly. It’s also an issue that has mostly been ignored until recently. But now California is leading the country in requiring gas utilities to both measure and reduce the amount of methane they are leaking.
We commend SoCalGas for taking their first big step on the road to a solution.
Methane, refrigerants, black carbon – these are all pollutants that fall within a class of global warming agents known as SLCPs, or short-lived climate pollutants. As the name suggests, each has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than their better-known cousin, carbon dioxide (CO2) – but at the same time each is more potent (and works in different ways) than CO2 at warming the planet.
While SLCPs are a serious problem – responsible for nearly a quarter of the warming we’re experiencing today – cutting them is a huge opportunity to have almost an immediate benefit on slowing global climate change.
SLCPs and California Climate Policy
On April 30, Governor Jerry Brown announced new statewide targets for all greenhouse gas emissions – stating by executive order that all GHGs must be reduced to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. And, while many may be asking what more the state can do to cut more GHGs to meet the governor’s overall goal, on May 7 the Air Resources Board demonstrated that SLCP reductions are going to play a major role.
The new SLCP plan (released as a concept paper) didn’t receive a tremendous amount of fanfare. That lack of attention isn’t surprising – the SLCP plan after all is about a specific class of pollutants that is named by a rather obscure acronym. But, while the pomp of the governor’s executive order to cut all GHGs may have stolen the show on April 30, the May 7 plan may have just as much circumstance. Read More