Selected category: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

3 Keys for the American Petroleum Institute’s New Climate Task Force

AdobeStock_56840116By Ben Ratner, Director, EDF's Corporate Partnerships Program

The climate change discussion is percolating even in surprising places. The latest sign: the American Petroleum Institute’s recent formation of an internal task force on climate change. Reportedly the new task force’s mandate is to revisit API’s approach to this crucial issue, going into an election year and with ever greater scrutiny on fossil fuels.

It is too soon to know whether the task force will rubber stamp a business-as-usual approach defined by glossing over climate concerns and attacking policy measures, or chart a new path instead.

But if the task force is serious about a fresh look at the issue, here are three keys for the task force to consider as it ponders the future of API on climate.

Face the Facts

The oil and gas industry must be responsive to growing pressures from its investors, corporate customers, and Americans affected by oil and gas operations – from local pollution to climate change.

The historic global climate agreement reached in Paris, supported by nearly 200 countries including powerhouses like the United States and China, was also supported by a wide cross-section of American businesses – including PG&E, which as a natural gas distribution company and power generator is a user of API members’ products and a face to climate-conscious consumers.

Last April, over 400 investors representing more than $24 trillion in assets under management urged stronger leadership and more ambitious policies to lessen risk to investment and retirement savings of millions of Americans. Since then, the 2016 investor shareholder resolution season yielded a record breaking number of resolutions – 94 – addressing climate change, many levied as challenges to large oil companies.

And American public concern on global warming is reaching an eight year high, with nearly two-thirds of adults saying they worry about global warming a “great deal” or “a fair amount”, according to Gallup.

Facing all the facts, not cherry-picking them, can ground the task force’s work in today’s dynamic environment and enable an effective response in a changing world.

Solve Methane

While understanding and concern on the methane challenge has snowballed, API’s response has severely lagged.

But it doesn’t have to.

The methane emissions from the U.S. oil and natural gas industry account for the climate damage over a 20-year timeframe equivalent to roughly 240 coal fired power plants. And yet, when the Environmental Protection Agency issued rules earlier this year requiring operators to implement basic safeguards to detect and prevent emissions, API’s public response was to decry new environmental rules as “unreasonable and burdensome”.

Months prior, API’s combative regulatory filing questioned the authority of EPA even to regulate methane emissions, resisted twice-a-year inspections for accidental leaks and urged inspection exemptions that ignore insights on leak unpredictability.

The next round of methane rules is around the corner, and better late than never for API to embrace the United States’ goal of a 45% reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and to support effective national methane rules grounded in science and economics. Supporting a level playing field to address the invisible but undeniable methane problem would increase investor confidence and keep more product in the pipelines working for the economy, not against the climate. And it just might help build public trust in an industry that according to Edelman lags only the pharmaceutical and financial services industries in that category.

Truth be told, new regulations and compliance are not cost-free, but neither are exploration and drilling. Investing in effective rules will provide climate and environmental safeguards – a needed advancement responsive to legitimate pressure that is only rising.

Support Carbon Pricing

Implementing a market based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is widely thought to be the ultimate key to achieving U.S. climate goals including cutting emissions 80% by 2050. Geographies from northeastern states and California to South Africa and the EU have implemented various forms of carbon pricing. A number of mostly European API members have publicly supported pricing carbon, for example BP recognizing “that carbon pricing by governments is the most comprehensive and economically efficient policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

And yet, some prominent API members have to date withheld support for carbon pricing, or provided lukewarm quasi-endorsements but not lobbying muscle.

The oil and gas industry has survived through evolving, and it’s time to evolve on carbon pricing. An economically rational policy can provide the investment clarity companies want, while delivering the greenhouse gas reductions that societies, supply chains, and ecosystems need.

API is a large organization with diverse views represented, and the climate task force’s job won’t be easy. But the time for change couldn’t be better.

This post first appeared on the EDF + Business Blog

Also posted in Economics, Energy, Jobs| Read 1 Response

EPA Updates Standards to Reduce Methane Pollution from Landfills

Landfill Gas Extraction — photo by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

(This post was co-written by EDF’s Tomás Carbonell)

This morning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized long-overdue revisions to national emission standards and emission guidelines for new and existing municipal solid waste landfills.

These standards will reduce harmful air pollution from landfills, which are our nation’s third largest source of climate-destabilizing methane pollution and also discharge other deleterious pollutants.

In 2025, EPA estimates that the final standards and emission guidelines will reduce methane emissions by an estimated 334,000 metric tons and non-methane organic compounds by more than 2,000 metric tons, primarily by expanding the application of landfill gas capture technology.

Today’s announcement updates standards and guidelines for existing sources that have not been substantially changed since they were first issued in 1996. Over the last two decades, technology and practices have evolved to enable better and more efficient control of landfill emissions — both from new and existing sources. For instance, leading landfill operators and industry experts have identified and implemented a number of best practices for achieving further reductions in landfill emissions, including: installing gas collection systems early in the life cycle of the landfill; using proper landfill covers and rigorously monitoring the integrity of those covers; using landfill gas as an energy source to replace fossil fuels; and developing alternatives to landfilling, including recycling and composting of organic waste.

Despite these advances, some have argued that EPA is not authorized to update emission guidelines for existing sources and instead must maintain requirements that are now more than 20 years out of date. EPA’s authority to review and revise emission guidelines for existing landfills, however, is firmly grounded in the text and purpose of the Clean Air Act and consistent with bedrock principles of administrative law.

Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes these standards and guidelines for landfills, requires standards for new and existing sources alike to reflect the “best system of emission reduction,” taking into account cost and other factors.

Courts have consistently held that this provision of the Clean Air Act is manifestly forward-looking, enabling EPA to:

look toward what may fairly be projected for the regulated future, rather than the state of the art at present (National Asphalt Pavement Association v. Train, F.2d 775, 785, D.C. Circuit 1976 — quoting Portland Cement Association v. Ruckelshaus, 286 F.2d 375, 391, D.C. Cir. 1973)

If EPA is to fulfill this statutory obligation, it must have the ability to ensure that guidelines for existing sources are updated over time – just as the agency does for new sources — to reflect the latest advances and improvements in systems of emission reduction.

More broadly, EPA’s authority to update guidelines for existing sources flows inexorably from the fabric of the Clean Air Act, which recognizes the importance of EPA assessing new information about air pollution threats, incentivizing development of new technologies, and enabling their swift application.

In amending the Clean Air Act in 1977 Congress explicitly noted the importance of providing for continuous development and updating of standards:

Throughout this bill there is a philosophy of encouragement of technology development. It is an encouragement to induce, to stimulate, and to augment the innovative character of industry in reaching for more effective, less-costly systems to control air pollution. (S. Rep. No. 95-127 at *18, 1977)

Indeed, EPA periodically revisits the nation’s health-based standards for various pollutants in light of new scientific information and has revised standards for sources ranging from cars to power plants as new technologies have enabled more efficient and protective approaches. This process of regular review and improvement is consistent with firmly established principles of administrative law, which have long held that agencies have authority to revisit and update their regulations over time.

As the Supreme Court held in a landmark case:

Regulatory agencies do not establish rules of conduct to last forever; they are supposed … to adapt their rules and practices to the Nation's needs in a volatile, changing economy. They are neither required nor supposed to regulate the present and the future within the inflexible limits of yesterday. (American Trucking Associations, Inc., et al v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe RR Co., et al., 387 U.S. 397; 87 S. Ct. 1608, 1967)

Although EPA’s final landfills standards secure important benefits for climate and public health, there remain significant opportunities to achieve cost-effective emission reductions from municipal solid waste landfills. EPA’s decision to revise its landfill standards, however, is firmly consistent with the Clean Air Act’s long history grounded in innovation and cost effective pollution reductions. It can help to ensure these requirements remain vibrant over time and spur development of these and other new technologies to reduce landfill pollution.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, Policy| Read 2 Responses

Clean Trucks: Much Needed and Ready to Deliver

There was some good news from the U.S. Energy Information Agency recently. It found that the Clean Trucks program, which is expected to be jointly finalized this summer by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), will deliver huge carbon emission reductions.

"Kenworth truck" by Lisa M. Macias, U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia

The Clean Trucks program is designed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the freight trucks that transport the products we buy every day, as well as buses, heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and garbage trucks. The program’s first performance standards went into effect in 2014. The EPA and DOT are currently developing a second phase of performance standards. Strong standards can help keep Americans safe from climate change and from unhealthy air pollution, reduce our country’s reliance on imported oil, and save money for both truckers and consumers.

Without the Clean Trucks program, big trucks are on pace to increase emissions more than nearly any other end-use source of emissions between 2014 and 2040.

The proposed program charts a new course. The overall impact is 1.5 billion metric tons avoided (including upstream) through 2040.

The final program, which is currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, is expected to be announced this summer. EDF and a broad collation of clean air advocates, consumer groups, equipment manufacturers, trucking fleets, and freight shippers have called for the EPA and DOT to finalize strong standards.

Traffic Light TrucksIt is well documented that fuel saving solutions for heavy trucks exist today and can be cost-effectively deployed over the coming decade. Moreover, making trucks more fuel efficient will reduce lifecycle costs for truckers, freight shippers and consumers. We understand that stringent long-term fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards are necessary to overcome a range of barriers that prevent cost-effective solutions from reaching scale.

We are hopeful that the overall emissions savings from the Clean Trucks program will be even greater than expected benefits modeled in EIA’s analysis. EDF and others have called on the agencies to reduce new truck fuel consumption by 40 percent by model year 2025 beyond 2010 levels. This would increase annual emission reductions by an additional 40 million tons annually in 2035.

Others see the potential for greater efficiency levels, too:

The proposed Clean Truck program is a critical milestone on the journey to the truly transformative emission reductions we need from the freight sector. As we noted in 2013, trucks were on the path to account for 80 percent of the growth of freight emissions by 2040. The Clean Trucks program is set to offset this growth and start us on the long-term path towards substantial emission reductions.

This is indeed an achievement worthy of celebrating.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Policy| Read 1 Response

Climate Change and Millennials – An Entire Lifetime of Warmer Than Average Temperatures

While reading the announcement that 2015 had broken – indeed, shattered – the hottest year on record set by 2014, there was one fact that really made things personal: we have now had 31 straight years since a single month was cooler than the twentieth century global average temperature. That means that I have never lived through a month that wasn’t warmer than average – never once in my lifetime.

My entire career as a climate scientist is focused on reducing the threat of global warming, and yet I have never even been alive at a time when the climate was stable. I technically don’t even know what normal is.

Warmest Years on Record graphic

So on one hand, you could say that I don’t even know what I am fighting for. On the other hand, I’ve been afforded two unique opportunities because I’ve lived in the shadow of global warming my entire life.

First, because I’ve grown up at a time when heat records are broken over and over again, I was aware of this worldwide crisis during those impressionable and important “pick a major” years of college. I was thus able to set myself on a career path shaped by climate change from the get-go, rather than later on in life once I was already an established professional in something else.

Second, because my elder colleagues have already identified – with extreme confidence – that humans are the main cause of climate change, I’ve been able to focus on solutions from the get-go, and not just causes and impacts. I have thus benefitted from previous scientific research because I could explore avenues to address climate change, because if humans are the cause, then we are also the solution.

And it’s not just me; there is now an entire generation of young people motivated and empowered to do something about climate change. We – almost the entire millennial generation – have never lived in a world without global warming.

Perhaps for similar reasons to mine (and/or because we think we’re special), my generation has shown a propensity for not just caring about climate change, but doing something about it. Whether on their campuses of their schools or the communities where they live, my generation is showing that they want solutions. In fact, eighty-percent of millennials support cleaner energy in the U.S., regardless of party affiliation.

For this reason among others, I am more hopeful about our future than ever before. Climate change has been impacting my generation our whole lives, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We didn’t ask for this challenge, but I truly believe we’ll be able to rise up to meet it.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Science| Read 1 Response

Congress Backs Down from Harmful Environmental Rollbacks

rp_US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006-300x226.jpgCongress is on the verge of passing an omnibus spending bill for 2016, and the headlines will be that lawmakers — in a modest victory for common sense – are doing their job and avoiding another disastrous government shutdown.

What’s in the omnibus bill is important, of course. But just as important is what’s not in it.

Left on the cutting room floor were a host of objectionable rollbacks that were jammed into various pieces of appropriations bills. That’s a testament to both the courage of pro-environment negotiators in Congress and the White House, and to the growing political power of environmental issues.

The loudest threat against the environment was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign pledge to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Never mind that this would mean unlimited carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants, more asthma attacks, more smog, and more climate change.

But McConnell’s threat was far from the only danger. Among the potential “riders” – rules in the bill meant to change or block policies – were ones designed to:

  • Block efforts to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are clearly and consistently defined
  • Stop EPA efforts to strengthen public health protections against ground-level ozone pollution (better known as “smog”)
  • Block efforts to ensure that the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are calculated consistently, and are appropriately considered in federal environmental planning decisions
  • Require EPA to deem any biomass energy project as carbon neutral – even if the science didn’t support that decision
  • Block the Bureau of Land Management from improving environmental and safety standards for the use of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands
  • Bar the Administration from helping poor countries deal with drought, rising sea levels and other threats exacerbated by climate change
  • Stop EPA’s ability to require industry to phase out hydrofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that damage the ozone layer

This is a sampling of the proposals that would have represented serious setbacks for the work being done to responsibly clean our air and water and protect our environment for future generations.

The fact that these proposals didn’t make it into the final omnibus bill is a testament to everyone across America who has spoken up against these attacks. It’s also the latest piece of a remarkable recent winning streak for the environment, from the Clean Power Plan to the blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline to the breakthrough climate pact in Paris.

There is additional good news in that important tax incentives for wind and solar energy are extended in the omnibus bill into 2016 and beyond, as are vital funds for land and water conservation.

There’s no question that Congress is failing its larger responsibility to protect public health and the environment. But for now, we need to celebrate these victories that stop efforts to take us in the wrong direction. They are important wins for a cleaner future for our kids and grandkids.

 

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, News, Policy| Comments are closed

These three states have a head start on the Clean Power Plan. You'd never guess who they are

This solar energy plant in Nevada can power 75,000 homes during peak demand and will generate $73 million in tax revenues over 20 years. Source: Solar Reserve.

Everyone in Colorado skis, all Oklahomans can rope a calf, and native New Jerseyans like me all talk like Pauly D did on Jersey Shore. Right?

You may also stereotype when it comes to clean energy: Progressive states such as California are pumping out clean, renewable energy while others insist on clinging to old, dirty power plants. Well, it’s more complicated than that.

California, which has a market-based system for cutting carbon pollution, does lead the country. But a number of states, including notably Nevada, Texas and North Carolina, are also making great progress on clean energy – which may surprise some.

Their success is evidence that the supposed divide on clean power may be more about politics than economics and opportunities on the ground.

And that bodes well for the federal Clean Power Plan’s goal of reducing emissions from America’s power plants. Because if Texas is well-positioned to comply, why couldn’t other states do the same?

Energy policies that boost state economies

Texas, home of Big Oil, big hats, and JR Ewing, actually has more energy potential from resources sweeping over its prairies – in the form of wind and sunshine – than from those flowing underneath them. The state leads the nation in wind power and combined heat and power, and has the potential to generate more solar power than any other state.

If energy efficiency used by Austin Energy were extended across the state, it would reduce peak electricity growth by 40 percent, while keeping Texans as high-powered as ever.

Nevada, meanwhile, has also been smart about exploiting its huge solar energy potential. The state’s current renewable energy standard requires utilities to generate 25 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2025, with 6 percent coming from solar energy by 2016.

With more than 250 days of sunshine a year and abundant wind and geothermal energy potential, this goal is well within reach. Nevada’s forward-thinking energy policies and commitment to clean energy are part of the reason Tesla chose it as the location of its multi-billion dollar gigafactory to produce batteries for electric cars.

Finally, in North Carolina, tax credits and a modest renewable energy portfolio standard created opportunities to build a strong clean energy industry.

North Carolina is now one of the top four states in installed solar capacity and second behind California in large, utility-scale solar projects. Clean energy added nearly $5 billion to the state’s economy last year, and today provides nearly 23,000 jobs.

Earlier this year, tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook told lawmakers that state policies “made North Carolina particularly attractive to [their] businesses.” Retail giants Walmart and North Carolina-based Lowe’s Home Improvement told lawmakers they want more choice and competition when it comes to energy.

North Carolina’s burgeoning clean energy economy suffered a set-back this year, however, when state lawmakers chose not to extend the tax credit – proving that state legislators are not required to take the Hippocratic Oath.

Back-track or invest in the future?

All this will make a big difference when it comes to implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which gives each state a target and flexibility for cutting climate pollution.

As much as some leaders in the Lone Star State and elsewhere complain and sue over this rule, they are actually well on their way to meeting their goals under the plan. If state governments would only take advantage of the natural opportunities they have – be more like Nevada and less like the recent back-tracking in North Carolina – they’d be in great shape.

We need to protect ourselves from the trillions in potential damage that Citibank and others say we’d face from unchecked climate change, so the world is moving toward clean energy. Wouldn’t it be better if state political leaders, who have so much to gain and such an achievable path forward, put their efforts in to creating that future rather than clinging to the past?

Forward-looking leaders do, because stereotypes aside, it ultimately comes down to good economics.

This post originally appeared on our EDF+Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy| Comments are closed
  • About this blog

    Expert to expert commentary on the science, law and economics of climate change and clean air.

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Categories

  • Meet The Bloggers