Selected category: Policy

Investments to Meet Emissions Goals are Driving Innovation and Growth in U.S. Auto Industry

15261010832_b13a8d395c_kThe past couple of weeks have seen a whirlwind of announcements related to the U.S. auto industry.

The century-old industry has been hailed as the fastest U.S. job creator – expanding payroll by “nearly 35 percent” in recent years. Manufacturers have introduced dozens of new, fuel-efficient models. Technology companies and automotive manufacturers are collaborating more than ever to add features, and to get the world ready for self-driving vehicles.

The need for climate action has been a critical driving factor in each of these trends.

The Clean Car Standards have been focusing auto industry investment and innovations since they were finalized in 2010. Over that time, the automobile industry has made a dramatic return to profitability and added jobs – all while exceeding the Clean Car Standards. The industry has also started to bring to market a new generation of fuel-saving solutions.

Confirmation of these trends could be found at the recent Consumer Electronics Show and the Detroit Auto Show, where manufacturers paraded out their latest developments.

  • Ford stated that it expects sales of electric vehicles will overtake sales of gas-fueled vehicles within 15 years. Ford showcased its ability to improve conventional vehicles by unveiling the 2018 model Ford F150 – the best selling vehicle in the U.S. – with options for a more fuel efficient 3.3 liter six cylinder engine and automatic stop-start technology. It also announced new hybrid versions of the F-150 and Mustang by 2020. The company promised a new fully electric SUV vehicle with 300-mile range by 2020.
  • General Motors (GM) celebrated having the fully-electric, 238-mile range Chevy Bolt awarded the North American Car of the Year or Truck of the Year. The Chevy Bolt was previously awarded Motor Trend Car of the Year. The Bolt, which came to market last month, is also at the center of GM’s work on self-driving vehicle technology
  • Nissan announced a new generation of its LEAF electric vehicle, with “autonomous drive functionality" for highways.
  • Honda publicized its plan to introduce a new, U.S.-made hybrid vehicle in 2018 and roll out its Clarity Electric and the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid vehicles.
  • Toyota appointed its president (grandson of the company’s founder) to lead their newly formed electric car division, in an effort to “speed up development of electric cars.” 
  • Volkswagen – unveiled a prototype electric van capable of a 270-mile range and with room for eight-passengers. The company has committed to have at least 25 percent of its global sales be electric vehicles by 2025.
  • Samsung introduced a new lithium-ion battery cell for electric vehicles. The battery promises over 350 miles of range and a 20-minute fast charge. The battery is slated for production in 2021.
  • Tesla declared that its gigafactory for battery production was open for business. The Reno, Nevada facility already employees almost 3,000 workers, and is ultimately expected to employ 6,500 in full-time positions.
  • Mercedes announced in Paris last year that electric cars would account for 25 percent of the company’s deliveries in 2025, backed by plans to invest $1.1 billion in battery technology.

As these developments show, automakers and their suppliers are investing and bringing to market clean vehicle solutions beyond what even the Clean Car Standards require.

These companies are making these investments because there is a robust domestic market for clean cars. Electric vehicle sales in the U.S., for example, were up more than 50 percent in the second half of 2016 (compared to 2015).

Companies are also making these investments to stay competitive in a global race that will define the next chapter of mobility. GM, for example, had a third of its global sales in China in 2016. China is the largest market worldwide for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and if U.S. automakers want to be competitive there they will need to stay on the leading edge of the technology curve. Autotomy and electrification will be the hallmarks of this new, global chapter.

By driving more investment in future offerings, the Clean Car Standards help position U.S. manufacturers to win this race at home and abroad.

This perspective was recently voiced by the United Auto Workers, which noted:

“Our competitors around the globe are working to strengthen environmental standards and it would be counterproductive to enact policies that provide disincentives for investing in advanced technologies and improving efficiency. History has taught us that a diverse fleet is essential for strong export sales and keeping jobs in the United States. Efficiency and emission standards can and must continue to be a win-win for the environment, working families, domestic manufacturing and the overall economy.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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2016 Wrap-Up: States, Power Companies Lead in Cutting Carbon; Election Not Slowing Expected 2017 Progress

(This post was co-authored by EDF Associate Charlie Jiang. It was revised on January 6, 2017)

The new Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island -- one of many examples of clean energy progress in 2016. Photo courtesy Deepwater Wind

The new Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island — one of many examples of clean energy progress in 2016. Photo courtesy Deepwater Wind

2016 was a big year for progress in the U.S. power sector. Renewable energy sources provided 16.9 percent of the country’s electricity in the first half of 2016, up from 13.7 percent for all of 2015. The country’s first offshore wind farm opened off the coast of Rhode Island. Most importantly, carbon emissions from the power sector are projected to continue to decline and hit levels not seen since 1992.

Strong leadership by forward-thinking governors, policymakers, and power company executives who recognize the imperative of lower-carbon generation and the promise of clean energy, powerful market forces intensifying the push to lower-carbon resources, and the critical federal regulatory overlay of the Clean Power Plan — which has made clear that unlimited carbon pollution is a thing of the past — have all combined to deepen a trend towards cleaner electricity production at this dynamic moment in time.

Even with any possible political maneuverings in Washington, D.C. to reverse clean energy and climate progress, it is clear that the transition to a low-carbon future is well under way.

States and power companies are surging ahead — and given the favorable economics of clean energy and the urgent need to reduce climate-destabilizing pollution it would be foolish to turn back.

  • More than 21 gigawatts of wind and solar power (utility-scale and rooftop) are projected to have been installed in 2016, accounting for 68 percent of new U.S. capacity additions. That’s according to analyses by FERCSNL EnergyEIA, and SEIA/GTM Research.
  • Some of the country’s oldest and least efficient power plants were scheduled to close in 2016, transitioning 5.3 gigawatts of capacity, in no small part due to increasingly favorable economics for low-carbon generation.
  • Since 2014, solar installation has created more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction and crude petroleum and natural gas extraction combined. According to recent reports, there are now more than 400,000 jobs in renewable energy.

Together, these trends indicate the U.S. power sector is well-positioned to continue to reduce carbon pollution at a significant pace. And because of the favorable economics for low-carbon generation and the urgent need to protect against climate risks, hundreds of major corporations are on record supporting the Clean Power Plan and the achievement of emission reduction targets.

Power sector carbon emissions declined to 21 percent below 2005 levels in 2015, and are expected to drop again in 2016, meaning the power sector is already two-thirds of the way towards meeting its 2030 pollution reduction goals under the Clean Power Plan.

Notably, this de-carbonization of the electric sector has proceeded while the U.S economy has grown. In addition, recent analysis by the Brookings Institution shows that as of 2014, at least 33 individual states have also decoupled their economic growth from carbon pollution — continuing to grow their gross domestic product while significantly slowing their rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

Heading into 2017, companies from coast to coast are well-positioned to secure ongoing reductions in carbon emissions from their fleets – thereby helping the United States to achieve international commitments under the Paris Agreement, delivering greater value to customers and shareholders while ensuring state or municipal policy objectives will be achieved, and sharpening their ability to meet declining emissions limits in accordance with a federal regulatory framework.

Even the vast majority of states litigating against the Clean Power Plan can comply with the CPP targets by optimizing the carbon pollution benefits from already planned investments and compliance with existing state policies. The Clean Power Plan is crucial to making certain that states and companies take advantage of the opportunity to ensure the carbon reduction potential of these investments are fully realized, so they can in fact achieve these reasonable protections.

The shift to a lower-carbon future should continue, as power companies recognize both the imperative to reduce emissions and the benefits of moving in this direction despite changing political winds in Washington.

For example, shortly after the November election, a number of executives from historically coal-intensive companies convincingly reaffirmed their commitment to de-carbonization:

  • No matter who occupies the White House, “[coal is] not coming back,” said American Electric Power CEO Nick Akins. “We’re moving to a cleaner-energy economy and we’re still getting pressure from investors to reduce carbon emissions. I don’t see that changing.”
  • “It can't just be, ‘We're going to get rid of these regulations, and you guys can party until the next administration comes,’” Cloud Peak Energy Vice President Richard Reavey said. “There are serious global concerns about climate emissions. We have to recognize that's a political reality and work within that framework.”
  • “Markets are driving a lot of the behavior,” said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy. “[W]e’ll continue to move toward a lower carbon energy mix.”
  • “We've always had a point of view at Southern that there's a reasonable trajectory in which to move the portfolio of the United States to a lower carbon future,” said Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning. “There's a way to transition the fleet now.” In a later interview, Fanning added: “It's clear that the courts have given the EPA the right to deal with carbon in a certain way.”
  • “Regardless of the outcome of the election,” said Frank PragerXcel Energy’s Vice President of Policy and Federal Affairs, “Xcel Energy will continue pursuing energy and environmental strategies that appeal to policymakers across the political spectrum because we are focused on renewable and other infrastructure projects that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions without increasing prices or sacrificing reliability.”

Acting on these commitments, many power companies are continuing to expand their renewable investments while phasing out high-carbon generation, putting them in a solid position to comply with robust carbon pollution regulations.

Here are a few recent highlights just from the last months:

  • At the end of December, Florida Power & Light (FPL) showed strong leadership when announcing plans to shut down the recently-acquired 250-megawatt Cedar Bay coal plant at the end of the year. “I'm very proud of our employees for proposing this innovative approach that's environmentally beneficial and saves customers millions of dollars,” said CEO Eric Silagy. FPL plans to replace the retired power with natural gas and solar — the company added 224 megawatts of solar capacity in 2016. FPL also noted that their system is now “cleaner today than the 2030 carbon emissions rate goal for Florida outlined by the Clean Power Plan,” while average residential bills are about 30 percent lower than the national average.
  • On December 30, Southern Company announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Systems America to develop 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy scheduled to come online between 2018 and 2020. The agreement comes as Southern Company continued to boost its renewable portfolio with the acquisition of 300 megawatts of wind power in late December, bringing its total to more than 4,000 megawatts of renewable generation added or announced since 2012.
  • Duke Energy acquired its first solar project in Colorado on December 8. The purchase advances Duke’s goal of owning more than 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects by 2020.

After the election, a number of power companies reiterated their commitment to reducing air pollution and meeting their obligations under the federal Clean Air Act by transitioning aging coal plants.

  • PNM Resources spokesman Pahl Shipley said the company has no change in plans for retiring two units at a New Mexico plant, totaling 837 megawatts of capacity, in 2017. PNM will replace the retired capacity with solar and nuclear power.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority is moving forward with plans to retire two coal plants in 2017, as well as a third in 2018.
  • Colorado-based electric cooperative Tri-State Generation will move forward with plans to retire its 100-megawatt Nucla coal plant and Unit 1 of the Craig coal plant. “We are moving forward with retirement activities and developing a transition plan for the employees and communities,” said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey after the election.

These announcements follow one of the biggest clean energy leadership stories of 2016 – commitments by two midcontinent utilities, Xcel Energy and Berkshire Hathaway Energy, to go big on cost-effective investments in new wind resources.

  • This past year, Minnesota regulators approved a plan for Xcel Energy to construct as much as 1,800 megawatts of new wind power and 1,400 megawatts of solar in the state by 2030. Xcel also received approval to build a 600 megawatt wind farm in Colorado.
  • Berkshire subsidiary MidAmerican Energy secured approval to construct a massive 2,000 megawatt wind farm in Iowa that will be the “largest wind energy project in US history.” Said CEO Bill Fehrman: “Our customers want more renewable energy, and we couldn’t agree more.”

State policymakers have not stayed on the sidelines, either. 2016 sustained progress as states moved forward with commonsense efforts to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants. And even with promises to roll back critical clean air, climate, and clean energy progress coming out of Washington, D.C., states made clear after the election that they will not be slowed down by potential federal backsliding:

  • On December 7, Illinois enacted a comprehensive new energy bill that will in part double the state’s energy efficiency portfolio and allow for 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power while providing for continued operation of zero-emission nuclear facilities. These measures are expected to reduce the state’s carbon emissions 56 percent by 2030.
  • On December 15, Michigan lawmakers approved a new bill to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 15 percent by 2021, up from 10 percent. Republican Governor Rick Snyder touted the bill in a statement: “What we’re in is a huge transition in how we get our energy. We’ve got a lot of aging coal plants that are beyond their useful life, and it’s not worth investing in them anymore … We can transition to both natural gas and renewables and let the markets sort of define the balance between those two, so we’re moving away from an old energy source [where] we had to import all of this coal.”
  • Also in December, Washington Governor Jay Inslee proposed the state adopt a first-of-its-kind carbon tax of $25 per metric ton of carbon pollution. The proposal supplements the state’s innovative Clean Air Rule, adopted in September, which caps carbon emissions from individual polluters.
  • Nine states comprising the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are engaged in a stakeholder process designed to establish new, more protective, standards for climate pollution.
  • In Oregon, regulators are evaluating options for a market-based mechanism that could link to the California-Quebec carbon market, releasing a partial draft report on November 21.
  • Governors such as Colorado’s John Hickenlooper continue to display strong leadership and a keen understanding of the imperative to move to a low-carbon future. After the election, Hickenlooper said he remains committed to fulfilling the goals of the Clean Power Plan, no matter what happens to the rule.
  • In Pennsylvania, a spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) noted that: “Pennsylvania’s carbon footprint has been shrinking rapidly due to market based decisions being made in the state’s electric generating sector … It is likely that this trend will continue.” He added that the DEP “will continue to seek ways to continue addressing climate change.”
  • In California, Governor Jerry Brown mounted a vigorous defense of California’s climate leadership and the role the state will continue to play in setting the stage for ongoing progress and defending the important progress of the last eight years. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to defend,” he said.

The momentum that power companies and states have generated towards achieving a clean energy future is powerful and encouraging.

Looking to 2017 and beyond, market trends are expected to continue to help facilitate de-carbonization of the electric sector, while federal and state policies must continue to provide certainty about the pace and depth of emissions reductions needed to address the threat of climate change. These policies will help companies plan clean energy investments in a way that maximizes benefits for consumers and facilitates optimal deployment of available resources.

The Clean Power Plan remains crucial to achieving these goals. Any disruption in the Clean Power Plan’s implementation could put long-overdue and readily achievable emission reductions at risk.

As we ring in the New Year, EDF will keep working with a diverse set of stakeholders across the country — including many state officials and power companies — to defend these critical environmental safeguards. At the same time, we will work vigorously to ensure that we achieve the reductions in carbon pollution envisioned by the program.

 

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, EPA litgation, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Partners for Change| Comments are closed

EPA Responds to States, Provides Useful Information for Developing Cost-Effective Programs to Reduce Carbon Pollution

By Pam Kiely and Nicholas Bianco

Earlier today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released several draft  documents designed to provide additional information for states and other stakeholders as they work together to reduce emissions of carbon pollution from power plants.

EPA notes that making these working drafts available:

[A]llows us to share our work to date and to respond to the states that have requested information prior to the end of the Administration.

The materials provide valuable insights that can be used by states currently implementing or considering developing their own programs for reducing carbon pollution, and can be leveraged as states evaluate ongoing state policy efforts to achieve pollution reductions under the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan establishes America’s first ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Once implemented, it will provide essential protections for public health and the environment – saving up to 3,600 lives each year and delivering up to $54 billion in annual climate and health benefits – while also reducing electricity bills for American families.

These documents reflect extensive public input and engagement as well as decades of practical experience reducing air pollution at the state and federal level. They provide constructive information in response to direct requests for this type of material made by states who are interested in having the best information available as they undertake their own planning, public engagement, and regulatory initiatives.

A letter submitted to EPA by 14 states  requested “additional information and assistance” to help states “prudently plan for and implement a variety of state and federal obligations” because many states, as well as their stakeholders, understand that continuing to navigate the dynamic transition underway today in the power sector requires comprehensively evaluating and integrating state policy priorities with their best understanding of existing and future federal policy.

While the Supreme Court has stayed enforcement of the Clean Power Plan, EPA’s provision of helpful information in response to this letter is entirely consistent with actions taken by past Republican and Democratic Administrations to provide clarification and information on Clean Air Act rules that had been stayed by the courts.

States such as Pennsylvania and Colorado have recently underscored their commitment to continuing state-driven efforts to address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, while more than a dozen power companies have continued to affirm that the transition to cleaner energy resources and progress toward de-carbonization of the electric sector is ongoing.

State officials and many companies keenly understand that prudent evaluation of the federal policy landscape, and ongoing deployment of no-regrets strategies and investments that well-position them to meet declining limits on carbon pollution, make sense. Additional information about options for Clean Power Plan implementation will only facilitate sensible alignment of state efforts already underway.

EPA released four draft documents today:

  1. Draft state models to help policymakers and regulators develop state-specific strategies to realize the benefits and achieve the emissions reduction targets in the Clean Power Plan. The draft models outline two highly flexible approaches for reducing carbon pollution in a cost-effective manner. By providing these models, EPA is helping to facilitate state innovation and the realization of pollution reductions aligned with state policies and prerogatives. These models provide greater clarity about practical implementation considerations so that states have the best information available about cost-effective opportunities to reduce climate pollution as they move ahead navigating, and helping to facilitate, the transition underway in the power sector.
  2. Draft EM&V Guidance for Demand-Side Energy Efficiency. EPA published draft guidance that states can use if they decide to implement demand-side energy efficiency projects. This guidance details methods for ensuring that project developers deliver high quality projects by providing options for monitoring and verification procedures that states can adopt if they are interested. Such support is extremely valuable, particularly when one considers that energy efficiency projects routinely deliver $2 in savings for Americans for every $1 invested, and in some cases up to $5 for every $1 invested.
  3. Draft Clean Power Plan Tracking Systems White Paper. EPA released draft materials designed to further assist states by providing information about how a tracking system could be designed to facilitate administration of the program. In so doing, EPA further demonstrates the relative ease with which a state can administer a flexible, cost-effective program to achieve carbon pollution reductions.
  4. Draft Technical Support Document: Leakage Requirement. If choosing to adopt a mass-based emission budget trading program instead of other program alternatives, this document  provides valuable information for addressing emissions leakage and securing the emissions reductions contemplated by the Best System of Emission Reduction. In addition to the streamlined approach for leakage mitigation that EPA finalized in the Clean Power Plan (using larger state budgets with the “new source complement” and including all fossil sources in the program), the working draft helpfully outlines a set of sample strategies that states could potentially use to guarantee the expected emissions outcome of their program, depending on particular state circumstances. The draft document notes the expectation that any strategy will include a process for performing periodic evaluations and look-backs that states and EPA could use to ensure the effectiveness of those measures. It also discusses the value of establishing mechanisms to address any shortcomings in performance. Together these measures underscore the importance of continuing to ensure on an ongoing basis that state program design secures the expected level of emissions reductions, and highlights the many options available to do so.

These draft materials build on decades of experience that EPA and states have in successfully implementing flexible compliance programs to reduce air pollution and drive innovation, and they show how these approaches can be applied for the Clean Power Plan. These same flexible frameworks have been used to reduce emissions under other Clean Air Act standards at a fraction of the cost that opposing parties have claimed –  and there is strong evidence that this will hold true for the Clean Power Plan as well (for examples see here, here, and here).

Climate pollution from the electricity sector has already fallen 21 percent below 2005 levels – which means America is already almost two-thirds of the way towards the 2030 Clean Power Plan emission targets. Emissions reductions and clean energy investments are widespread across states and power companies – even those that may be opposed to the Clean Power Plan itself. Analysis conducted for EDF by M.J. Bradley & Associates found that all 27 litigating states can comply with the Clean Power Plan just by leveraging already planned investments coupled with flexible compliance programs. Many of the power companies litigating against the Clean Power Plan are also well positioned to reach their targets, thanks to the increasingly low cost of lower- and zero-carbon generation.

While this progress is encouraging, the analyses also show that the Clean Power Plan has an essential role to play in ensuring that reasonable protections from climate pollution are realized. With the release of today’s draft documents, EPA is responding to the request by states, power companies, and other stakeholders to share lessons learned for flexible cost-effective implementation of the Clean Power Plan. These insights will prove to be valuable to states at all stages of planning for a low-carbon future.

 

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Congressman Gives Trump a Plan to Erase Health, Safety, And Environment Safeguards

At Risk: The Air We Breathe, Water We Drink, and Food We Eat

The conservative House Freedom Caucus has provided President-Elect Trump a “recommended list of regulations to remove.” Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the all-Republican Freedom Caucus, identified 228 federal rules they hope Trump will help eliminate.

Thirty-two of the proposals would roll back safety, health and environmental standards that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and our nation’s infrastructure (from pipelines to airports). By rolling back these regulations, the plan would essentially prevent the agencies responsible for protecting us from doing their job.

Another 43 proposals are aimed at undermining America’s progress on clean energy and climate change, pushing us away from energy efficiency and renewable energy sources toward more reliance on fossil fuels. This includes eliminating two dozen Department of Energy energy efficiency standards that save families money on energy bills, reduce energy waste, and prevent pollution.

Environmental Defense Fund has posted a copy of the Freedom Caucus document online (first obtained by the Washington Post) and added highlights to show the 75 health, safety, environment, and energy rollbacks.

The leading targets for these attacks are the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, but other agencies targeted include the Federal Aviation Administration, the State Department, the Department of Interior and others.

Trump’s Pick to Lead EPA Is An Added Threat

The danger of this regulatory ‘kill list’ is compounded by Donald Trump’s picks for key cabinet positions that would traditionally be the first to defend their agencies from political interference. Many of the recommendations are favorites of the fossil fuel lobby, which will have unprecedented power in Trump’s cabinet.

Trump’s decision to entrust Scott Pruitt with running the Environmental Protection Agency is especially dangerous. EPA is responsible for protecting our families from air and water pollution as well as toxic chemicals. Pruitt, however, has repeatedly and systematically teamed up with fossil fuel companies to sue the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent EPA action on regulating toxic mercury, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In a 2014 investigative report, the New York Times exposed Pruitt’s “secretive alliance” with oil and gas companies while Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Breaking Down the Regulations at Risk

Here is a summary of some of the most alarming Freedom Caucus proposals that Pruitt and others in Trump’s cabinet will be looking over. The Freedom Caucus list has inaccuracies, and it seems to be based on the premise that Trump can erase rules with a stroke of the pen in the first 100 days. For most of these, he cannot, because the agencies have responsibilities to implement laws and are subject to oversight by the courts. But that does not mean that these regulations are safe from diversion of funds, lack of enforcement, legislative attacks, and other efforts to weaken them.

In the following list, the numbers in parentheses match the numbers in the House Freedom Caucus plan.

  • Eliminate air pollution standards for smog-forming ozone (174), lung-damaging soot (fine particles, 178), and rules to reduce air pollution from tailpipes (175, 181) and smokestacks (182, 183)
  • Reverse course on climate change, including: erasing carbon pollution regulations for power plants (173, 182, 183), tailpipes (175, 181), and airplanes (194); cancelling the Paris agreement (161); and eliminating the Green Climate Fund (172).
  • Roll back Clean Water standards that protect the Great Lakes (186), Chesapeake Bay (185), and to prevent pollution of wetlands (13) and rivers (199) across the nation.
  • Block regulations to prevent dangerous chemical accidents that release toxic chemicals into surrounding communities (189).
  • Jeopardize Worker safety, including repealing standards to prevent lung cancer among workers exposed to silica dust (135).
  • Repeal two dozen energy efficiency standards for appliances and industrial equipment (28-53).
  • Repeal natural gas pipeline safety standards passed in response to gas pipeline disasters, including the 2010 San Bruno disaster in California (153).
  • Repeal fuel economy and tailpipe standards for cars that are saving consumers money at the pump, reducing our dependency on oil, and reducing air pollution (175, 181).
  • Eliminate food safety regulations, including fish inspections (3).
  • Strip FDA’s authority to regulate the tobacco industry (55).
  • Repeal an FDA rule to safeguard our food supply against tampering by terrorists (83).
  • Eliminate the State Department agencies responsible for environmental science, protecting our oceans, and addressing climate change (162, 170, 171).
  • Block FAA regulations aimed at improving the safety of air traffic management at airports (156).
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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.

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

Defending BLM Standards that Reduce Waste, Protect Air Quality

us-doi-blm-logo-300x261EDF, along with a coalition of health and environmental groups, just filed a motion to intervene in defense of vital new standards that will prevent the wasteful loss of natural resources, save money for taxpayers and tribes, and reduce emissions of dangerous and climate-disrupting pollution.

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) waste prevention standards will reduce venting, flaring, and leakage of natural gas on BLM-managed federal and tribal lands – but they are being challenged in U.S. Federal District Court in Wyoming by oil and gas industry groups and three states.

Federal and tribal lands are an important source of oil and gas production. Together, the amount they produce is the equivalent of five percent of the U.S. oil supply and 11 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply, and generates more than $2 billion annually in royalties.

Unfortunately, oil and gas companies that lease these federal and tribal lands lose substantial amounts of publicly-owned natural gas through unnecessary venting, flaring, or leaking at production sites.

A recent study from ICF International found that in 2013, drilling on federal and tribal lands —mostly in the rural West— leaked, vented, and flared natural gas worth about $330 million. An analysis from the Western Values Project estimates taxpayers could lose almost $800 million over the next decade if wasteful venting and flaring practices continue.

In addition to wasting a public resource, oil and gas companies’ unnecessary venting, flaring, and leakage on federal and tribal lands also poses significant public health and safety risks.

The wasted natural gas is primarily composed of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas, capable of warming the climate at a rate 84 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The leaked, vented, and flared natural gas also emits air pollutants including carcinogens such as benzene, and volatile organic compounds – which contribute to hazardous smog.

BLM’s recently finalized venting and flaring standards deploy common sense, cost-effective, and readily available technologies — already effectively in use in several states across the country — to capture this gas.

The standards yield significant benefits by minimizing the waste of a taxpayer-owned natural resource, and by curbing emissions that contribute to air pollution and climate change, all while helping to create new jobs in methane mitigation. They will save, and put to productive use, up to 56 billion cubic feet of gas a year — enough to supply up to 760,000 households – and will provide millions in additional revenues for taxpayers.

The standards will also cut methane emissions by up to 169,000 tons per year — the equivalent to carbon emissions from as many as 890,000 vehicles.

These benefits will accrue to millions of people across the country, including those living near oil and gas development on federal and tribal lands.

EDF member and New Mexico rancher Don Schreiber has more than 100 oil and gas wells on and near his ranch in the San Juan Basin that will now be covered by the BLM standards. In a declaration supporting EDF’s motion to intervene, he describes the impact of venting, flaring, and leaking from these wells on his family and, in particular, his grandchildren:

Most noticeable is the near-constant smell from leaking wells. …  These odors make breathing uncomfortable and often cause us to leave affected areas as quickly as possible. … We worry about [our grandchildren’s] exposure to air pollutants from oil and gas development on the property, and always are careful to keep them away from the wells and above ground pipeline equipment. Protecting our grandchildren from the negative health effects of oil and gas emissions is a constant concern when they come to visit us. (New Mexico rancher Don Schreiber, Declaration)

With the new standards, he anticipates a reduction in the “harmful air pollution near my home and in the state where my family and I live, work, and recreate.” (Declaration)

BLM’s efforts to reduce natural gas waste have broad and cross-cutting support from elected officials and community members across the West. In a recent bipartisan poll of Western states, 80 percent of respondents supported BLM standards to curtail waste of this valuable resource. And, over the course of several years during which the rule was under development, BLM solicited the feedback of community stakeholders, oil and gas developers, and local, tribal and state governments. The final rule is the result of a collaborative and deliberate process and includes changes that reflect this stakeholder input.

Standing in stark contrast to this careful process, industry associations rushed to file legal challenges seeking to overturn the waste prevention rule within 40 minutes after it was released — hardly enough time to read the rule, let alone meaningfully consider its contents.

And in a subsequent filing seeking to block these protections before they become effective, these industry associations put forward a number of flawed claims, not least of which was their suggestion that BLM acted unlawfully because its rule may “only” produce additional annual royalty revenues of $22.4 million — a sum the filing characterizes as “de minimis.”

While $22 million annually may be an insignificant amount for the oil and gas companies litigating to overturn this rule, it has real meaning for infrastructure projects, schools, and communities across the country that stand to benefit from this funding.

It’s unfortunate that some have engaged in reflexive efforts to roll back protections designed to prevent the waste of our nation’s public resources and, at the same time, protect our air quality and climate.

The good news is that BLM’s commonsense standards are firmly rooted in the agency’s manifest authority to minimize waste and to address the harmful health and environmental consequences of oil and gas development on federal lands.  We at EDF look forward to vigorously defending these standards in court.

Also posted in Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Partners for Change| Comments are closed
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