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Western Leaders, Attorneys General Support BLM’s Oil and Gas Waste Policies in Court

8362494597_b5e016f63f_z-300x169By Jon Goldstein and Peter Zalzal

(This post originally appeared on EDF Energy Exchange)

The legal fight to defend the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) recent efforts to prevent oil and gas companies from wasting methane on public and tribal owned land continued yesterday.

EDF and a coalition of local, regional, tribal and national allies filed a brief opposing efforts by industry organizations and a handful states to block BLM’s protections before they even come into effect. 

The states of New Mexico and California also sought to participate in the legal challenges, likewise stepping up to defend BLM’s common sense standards. Notably, New Mexico is the largest producer of oil from public lands in the U.S. and the second largest producer of natural gas.

In seeking to stay BLM’s protections, the industry associations have claimed the standards have no benefits – so blocking them won’t have any impacts on the communities they are designed to protect.

But BLM’s oil and gas waste standards are about ensuring that operators use common sense technologies to capture natural gas that would otherwise be wasted. That preserves a valuable natural resource and cleans up the air, all while putting additional royalty payments in the pockets of Western communities that can be used to fund schools, roads and important infrastructure.

For example, a recent analysis found that in 2013, oil and gas companies operating on public and tribal lands wasted more than $330 million worth of gas – more than $100 million of that from New Mexico alone. This translates to lost royalty revenues for local communities. One report estimates that without action to reduce this waste, taxpayers could lose out on more than $800 million in royalties over the next decade.

The challengers’ legal claims stand in stark contrast to the facts on the ground. Evidence of the broad-based benefits of BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule was readily apparent in yesterday’s court filings supporting the protections..  Current and former state and county officials and everyday Westerners alike let their voices be heard about the importance of common sense measures to preserve public resources and protect the environment.

For example, in their filing seeking to participate in the case, the states of New Mexico and California emphasized:

Implementation of the Rule will benefit the States of California and New Mexico by generating more annual royalty revenue . . . . In addition, the Rule will benefit the health of the states’ citizens who are exposed to harmful air contaminants leaked, vented and flared from federally-managed oil and gas operations . . . . The People of California and New Mexico have a strong interest in preventing the waste of public resources, as well as in reducing the emission of harmful air pollutants that threaten the health of the states’ citizens, the integrity of their infrastructure, protection of their unique environments and ecosystems, and the continued viability of their economies. ( Filing, pages 2 and 3)

And in their filing opposing the preliminary injunction, these states claimed:

Because the Rule is likely to result in the stronger protection of federal lands and greater prevention of the waste of natural resources, which belong to the People, the public interest weighs strongly in favor of denying the injunction. (Filing, page 16)

The benefits that New Mexico and California identified are broadly shared and were likewise reflected in declarations submitted by county officials and former state officials in support of the standards.

Current La Plata County Colorado Commissioner Gwen Lachelt identified both the problem of resource waste on public lands and the benefits for Western counties like hers in addressing it:

The San Juan Basin, in which La Plata County is situated, has one of the highest rates of wasted gas and methane loss in the country, accounting for nearly 17% of U.S. methane losses.

In addition to wasted methane, oil and gas sites in La Plata County and the San Juan Basin release dangerous pollutants such as benzene and ozone-forming pollutants that can lead to asthma attacks and worsen emphysema . . . . This air pollution continues to be a regional public health hazard, and has contributed to La Plata County receiving a low grade for poor ozone air quality from the American Lung Association…

The Rule will benefit La Plata County by providing additional royalties that we can use to fund key County priorities—including infrastructure, roads, and education—while also helping to clean up the air in the San Juan Basin, which will have health benefits for our citizens. (Filing, page 4 and 5)

Lachelt points out that unlike other leading oil and gas states like Colorado, New Mexico has no policies to reduce methane waste and other pollution from oil and gas wells, and that BLM’s efforts will help to provide uniformity across state lines.

Sandra Ely, a former Chief of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Air Quality Bureau likewise submitted a declaration describing the importance and benefits of the BLM standards. She particularly focused on the long-standing problem of resource loss in the San Juan Basin. The region made headlines in recent years when NASA scientists discovered a 200-square-mile methane cloud over the region – the largest methane cloud uncovered in the U.S. Subsequent studies determined that oil and gas emissions were the main contributor to the methane “hot spot.”

I am aware of a recent study, focused on the San Juan Basin, which suggested that BLM’s proposed leak detection and repair requirements alone would result in anywhere from $1–$6 million dollars of additional revenue for New Mexico… Absent the Waste Prevention Rule, I am concerned that resource loss and poor air quality associated with oil and gas development will continue unabated in New Mexico (Sandra Ely, Filing, page 7)

Western leaders have been vocal in their support for BLM’s sensible standards that take an important energy resource out of the air and deliver it responsibly to the American public. At public hearings that the BLM held across the west these rules were supported by more than 3 to 1 margins. More than 80 local officials across the West, including county commissions in La Plata, Park and San Miguel counties in Colorado and Bernalillo, Rio Arriba and San Miguel counties and the Santa Fe city council in New Mexico, all support the protections. And these rules enjoy broad bipartisan public support as well (more than 80 percent of Westerners in a recent poll).

Given this cross-cutting support and yesterday’s forceful legal filings, it’s no wonder that industry challengers in this case don’t even want the judge to hear the views of New Mexicans and Californians. Yesterday, they indicated that they would oppose these states’ efforts to protect the interests of their citizens by participating in the case. While this reflexive obstructionism isn’t surprising—industry petitioners filed their legal challenges within 40 minutes of the rule being finalized and tried to block the standards’ effectiveness shortly thereafter—it certainly reveals their very one-sided view of what is in the public’s interest.

The Wyoming Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in this case on January 6. We look forward to continuing to defend these standards that will clean the air and prevent waste.

Posted in Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

How Companies Set Internal Prices on Carbon

Despite the uncertainty created by the recent election, companies around the globe are demonstrating a commitment to keeping climate change in check. More than 300 American companies signed an open letter to President-elect Trump urging him not to abandon the Paris agreement. Others are acting on their own to reduce emissions in their daily operations, by setting an internal price on carbon.

The number of companies incorporating an internal carbon price into their business and investment decisions has reached new heights, a recent CDP report shows, with an increase of 23 percent over last year. The more than 1,200 companies that are currently using an internal carbon price (or are planning to within two years) are using them to determine which investments will be profitable and which will involve significant risk in the future, as carbon pricing programs are implemented around the world. Sometimes, they also use them to reach emissions reduction goals.

Not all carbon prices are created equal, and companies differ in how they set their specific price. Here’s a look at some of these methods:

Incorporating Carbon Prices from Existing Policies

 Some companies set their carbon price based on policies in the countries where they operate. For example, companies with operations in the European Union might decide to use a carbon price equal to that of the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) allowances, and those operating in the Northeastern United States might adopt the carbon price that results from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative market.

ConocoPhillips, for example, focuses its internal carbon pricing practices on operations in countries with existing or imminent greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation. As a result, its carbon price ranges from $6-38 per metric ton depending on the country. For operations in countries without existing or imminent GHG regulation, projects costing $150 million or greater, or that results in 25,000 or more metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, must undergo a sensitivity analysis that includes carbon costs.

Using Self-Imposed Carbon Fees

Others take a more aggressive approach by setting a self-imposed carbon fee on energy use. This involves setting a fee on either units of carbon dioxide generated or a proxy measurement like energy use. These programs also often include a plan for using the fees such as investment in clean energy or energy efficiency measures. This can be an effective method for incentivizing more efficient operations.

Microsoft, for example, designed its own system to account for the price of its carbon emissions. The company pledged to make its operations carbon neutral in 2012 and does so through a “carbon fee,” which is calculated based on the costs of offsetting the company’s emissions through clean energy and efficiency initiatives. Each business group within Microsoft is responsible for paying the fee depending on how much energy it uses. Microsoft collects the fees in a “central carbon fee fund” used to subsidize investments in energy efficiency, green power, and carbon offsets projects. Still, by limiting carbon fees to operational activities, Microsoft has yet to address a large chunk of their emissions.

Setting Internal Carbon Prices to Reach Emissions Reduction Targets

 Other companies set an internal carbon price based on their self-adopted GHG emissions targets. This involves determining an emissions reduction goal and then back-calculating a carbon price that will ensure the company achieves its goal by the target date. This method is a broader approach focused more on significantly reducing emissions while also mitigating the potential future risk of carbon pricing policies.

Novartis, a Swiss-based global healthcare company, uses a carbon price of $100/tCO2 and cites potential climate change impacts as a motivator. The company has its own greenhouse gas emissions target, which it is using to cut emissions to half of its 2010 levels by 2030. These internal policies mean that Novartis, which is included in the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), has been able to sell surplus allowances and thus far avoid an increase in operating costs.

Where we go from here

 While these internal carbon pricing activities are welcome – and we hope they continue – they are not sufficient to reduce greenhouse gases to the degree our nation or world requires. Like these forward thinking companies, nations around the world, including the United States, need to consider the costs of inaction, including the climate-related costs, to avoid short-sighted investments. Ultimately, we will need public policies that put a limit and a price on carbon throughout the economy.

The spread of internal carbon pricing could signal greater support for carbon pricing by governments. But companies can do more: the ultimate test of a company’s convictions and commitment to carbon pricing might be their willingness to advocate for well-designed, ambitious policies that achieve the reductions we need.

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Groundbreaking Study Shows New Coal Plants are Uneconomic in 97 Percent of US Counties

By: Ferit Ucar

At Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we understand that market forces can drive either a healthy environment – or harmful pollution. I recently wrote about how generating electricity often creates pollution, which comes with environmental and health costs that are usually not paid for by the polluters. That’s why EDF works to identify and correct market failures, like the failure to understand – as well as account for – all of the costs pollution imposes on society.

The Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) just released a useful tool in that pursuit: a studythat aims to capture the full cost of new electric power generation – including environmental and public health costs – on a county-by-county basis in the United States. The study evolves traditional ways of estimating new generation costs by 1) incorporating pollution costs, and 2) breaking data down to the county level.

The results show economics are leading the U.S. to a cleaner energy economy, in which there is no role for new coal plants. Let’s break it down.

Enhancing the levelized cost method

The Levelized Cost Of Electricity (LCOE) method is commonly used to compute the costs of different power sources – including fossil fuels and renewables – on a comparable basis. The LCOE, expressed on a dollar per kilowatt-hour (kWh) basis, is the estimated amount of money it takes for a particular electricity generation technology to produce a kWh of electricity over its expected lifetime.

In its conventional form, the LCOE method does not take into account environmental and public health costs – costs external to electricity generation but caused by it. It also does not show the variation in costs of building and operating identical power plants across different geographies. The study provides an improved method that addresses these limitations. The study also factors in siting challenges – like water availability and access to fuel – that prevent certain plant types from being built in a given county.

The UT study presents results in a map format, which facilitates cost comparisons by fuel source, technology, and location. The study team released interactive maps that show the cheapest technology by county, as well as calculators that enable users to compare costs for different scenarios.

Key findings

The following U.S. map shows the least-cost technology when factoring in siting limitations, and environmental and public health costs. The key displays the number of counties in which each power technology is the least-cost option.

map-1

The analysis shows:

  • Wind is the least-cost option in the most number of counties.
  • Coal plants are never the least-cost option.
  • Natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plants are the least-cost option in counties where the wind isn’t as strong.
  • Utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) plants are the least-cost option in counties where it’s particularly sunny and/or there is a lack of cooling water availability, which is needed for thermal generation like coal.
  • When a county faces siting challenges that prevent other technologies from being built, residential solar PV plants (like rooftop solar) are the least-cost option. Put another way, rooftop solar is a viable option in every county; other power sources are not.

If you remove the environmental and public health costs from the analysis, the map looks different:

map-2

Even without accounting for the environmental and public health costs, wind remains the least-cost option in over 1,000 counties – that’s about one third of U.S. counties. And solar appears on the map nearly five times as much as coal.

Caveats

Although the study presents an improved way to measure the costs of electricity generation, we should acknowledge its limitations. It does not:

  • Remove the subsidies received by coal and natural gas during the exploration and extraction process, which effectively make fossil-fuel plants appear less costly than they actually are.
  • Account for the uncertainty of future fuel prices and capacity factors for fossil fuel and nuclear plants.
  • Demonstrate the environmental and public health benefits of retiring an existing fossil-fuel plant. As the study states, if emission rates from existing (rather than new) power plants were used, the public health costs would, on average, be 10 times higher.
  • Factor in the costs associated with managing the variability in wind and solar’s generation output.
  • Model the implications of the federal Production Tax Credits and Investment Tax Credits for renewable generation technologies, as well as subsidies at the state or local level, which affect investment decisions. (The calculators do allow changes to capital cost assumptions; so therefore, these could be factored in).
  • Consider economic factors other than cost – like revenue – that also affect investment decisions.
  • Account for the high-level environmental damage risks associated with electricity generation from nuclear, natural gas, and coal as a result of incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, Aliso Canyon, and Dan River coal ash spill that cause massive, long-term, acute, and dispersed chronic harm.

    The Energy Institute study clearly shows the economic viability of wind and increasing prospects for solar.

The Energy Institute study clearly shows the economic viability of wind and increasing prospects for solar. Moreover, it provides policymakers and the public with important information on the full cost of electricity for new power sources – including the environmental and public health costs such as asthma attacks, premature death, and lung damage resulting from fossil-fuel pollution.

When pollution costs are accounted for, as the UT study shows, coal power plants are not the lowest-cost electricity generation technology anywhere. Even without including environmental and health costs and renewables subsidies, and despite the fact extraction of coal remains subsidized, new coal plants are still not economic in 97 percent of U.S. counties. As we work to fix outdated rules, we know that market forces are helping to clear the way for clean energy progress and cleaner air.

This post originally appeared on our Energy Exchange blog.

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What would it mean for Los Angeles to go 100% renewable?

By Irene Burga, Tom Graff Fellow for the Oil and Gas Program

10182500174_6070b2f074_kThe Los Angeles City Council recently passed a unanimous resolution requiring Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – the largest municipally-owned utility in the country — to study how the city can achieve a 100% clean energy future. With help from research partners, including academic institutions, the U.S. Department of Energy, and environmental and consumer groups, the study has the potential to become a foundational roadmap for running the utility on only clean and renewable energy.

California currently has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, with half of the state’s energy supply powered by renewable electricity by 2030. To achieve these targets, it is imperative for the state to look seriously at how to get off of fossil fuel dependency for our energy needs. Utilities and cities can be the key to reaching those climate goals. Read More »

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Clean Energy: An Emerging Path for Latino Communities

chciBy: Andy Vargas, EDF Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Fellow

Hispanic Heritage Month is in full swing! It has also been a welcome way to kick off my placement with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Fellow. Each year, CHCI marks Hispanic Heritage Month with a Public Policy Conference elevating the issues most important to Latino communities. This year, I had the pleasure of representing both CHCI and EDF, introducing a panel on an emerging and critical topic for Latinos: clean energy.

Clean energy is key to protecting Latino communities from disproportionate impacts of climate change and pollution. At last week’s conference, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) highlighted that half the U.S. Latino population currently lives in the country’s most polluted cities. NHLA also noted that asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are more prevalent in inner city Latino communities near carbon-producing power plants.

Read More »

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Eastside Sol Celebrates Community, Culture, and Clean Energy in Los Angeles

ess-2016-dancing-crowdBy: Luis Gutierrez, Senior Associate, Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN) and Jorge Madrid, CA Campaign Director, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

It’s a warm, sunny day in August at the iconic Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, California. More than 400 local residents have come together to dance to the classic tunes of Selena and the cumbia-rock fusion of El Conjunto Nueva Ola – the entire stage powered by solar. They’re enjoying delicious vegan treats, participating in a live mural art project, and screen printing their own reusable tote bags. Many are collecting free shade trees to plant at home, learning about bicycle safety and receiving free helmets, and discovering information about a new vehicle trade-in program that allows Californians to swap out their older vehicles for a new or used electric car. So what exactly is this celebration of music, art, culture, and clean energy? It’s Eastside Sol.

Event organizers Jorge Madrid and Luis Gutierrez reflect on the origins of Eastside Sol, its driving principles, and what’s in store for the future.

Read More »

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