Look up in New Mexico and on most days you’ll see the unmistakable blue skies that make the Southwest so unique.
But there’s also something hovering over the Four Corners that a naked eye can’t detect: A 2,500-square mile cloud of methane, the highest concentration of the heat-trapping pollution anywhere in the United States. The Delaware-sized hot-spot was first reported in a study two years ago.
At the time, researchers were confident the cloud was associated with fossil fuels, but unsure of the precise sources. Was it occurring naturally from the region’s coal beds or coming from a leaky oil and gas industry?
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After passing the State Assembly Appropriations committee on Wednesday, a little known bill – SB 1441 – is headed for the assembly floor, which is slated to deliver big benefits for consumers and the environment. Not only will the bill create a strong market driver for utilities to operate tighter infrastructure and save California consumers tens of millions of dollars per year, the simple yet innovative approach it takes can chart a course for curbing methane leaks across the industry.
But first, a little context.
As recent as a couple years ago, non-hazardous natural gas leaks and venting were a commonly accepted occurrence across gas utility infrastructure. As long as a leak or a venting wasn’t likely to ignite, utilities could let it go – with many small persistent leaks lasting for decades. And though it sounds hard to believe, gas utilities continuously collect money from consumers through their gas bills to cover the amount of gas utilities lose, even though they also collect money from those same ratepayers to upgrade pipes. This market design works only to protect utilities – giving them money to fix leaks while also covering them if they don’t. Read More
The U.S. economy is wonderfully dynamic. New businesses launch daily, creating jobs and providing tax revenues for schools and police. Innovative technologies are introduced, offering customers more choice and improved services. Sometimes, of course, those new firms and devices replace existing institutions and products.
Today’s electricity industry is no exception. Technological advances are helping hundreds of new businesses deploy wind turbines and solar panels, build new natural-gas generators, and install monitors and controls that increase the efficiency of buildings and factories. At the same time, uneconomic and often dirty power plants are closing – within the past few years more than 10,000 megawatts of electric capacity in Ohio alone have closed or been announced to close.
Such closures can be good for customers, since they enjoy lower costs from the modern technologies. Closures can also be good for public health and the environment, since old units no longer spew mercury, carbon dioxide, and other harmful pollutants into the air.
Plant closures, however, also impact energy workers and their local communities. As the country’s energy system transitions from coal to cleaner ways of making electricity, companies and policymakers should support and provide resources for those most affected – so everyone may benefit from the clean energy economy.
Each year, dozens of utilities across the U.S. embark on a complicated process called a “rate case.” Presented to a state public utility commission (PUC), a rate case is a utility’s pitch for higher electricity prices for customers. For most utilities, a rate case only happens once every several years. So, all sides argue for the rules of the road by which the utility will operate until the next rate case. A rate case is also where state and local governments, along with consumer and environmental advocacy groups, seek cleaner, cheaper, and more customer-friendly prices, products, and policies.
The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PPUC) is currently hearing a rate case for Metropolitan Edison (Met-Ed), which serves 560,000 residential and commercial customers, and represents one of the Pennsylvania utility branches of Ohio-based mega company FirstEnergy. Last month, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed testimony in the case urging Pennsylvania to modernize its grid with both voltage optimization and customer data access. The PPUC should require Met-Ed to implement both programs so Pennsylvanians can benefit from a clean, modern electric grid.
Last month, lifelong Kern County, California resident Felipa Trujillo discussed the health impacts her community, located near oil and gas operations, has experienced. “It’s the most contaminated place in the country. I have witnessed many children getting cancer and asthma, and would like to leave a positive future for my grandkids.”
Trujillo was one of over twenty witnesses that appeared last month before the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to testify on the need for strong statewide rules to reduce methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. During the meeting, Board members heard about the importance of the rules from many powerful witnesses, ranging from concerned mothers and fathers, impacted community members overburdened by poor air quality, nurses who consistently treat asthma patients, industry experts, and air district agents from throughout California.
Several Porter Ranch residents testified on what it was like to endure one of the worst methane leaks in U.S. history right in their backyard. “A month prior [to the Aliso Canyon leak being reported] my daughter Emma, 22 months at the time, began showing signs of asthma. Two months after the gas leak was reported, my daughters were diagnosed with acute exacerbation of asthma,” described Porter Ranch resident, Jaqueline Shroeder, calling on the Board to take swift action in approving strong rules. Read More
Calvin Bryne co-authored this post.
As with other environmental policies, California leads the nation in encouraging electric vehicle (EV) adoption. The state has made huge strides in promoting cleaner cars, and opportunities remain to fully tap the benefits of this clean energy resource.
California as a model for national policy
In California, vehicles are responsible for almost 40 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, making transportation the state’s greatest sole contributor to climate pollution. The enormity of this problem was an impetus for California becoming the first state to adopt comprehensive vehicle emissions standards in 2009. Modeled largely after California’s regulations of the same name, the federal Clean Car Standards set national greenhouse-gas reduction goals for vehicles made between 2017 and 2025, and established incentives for manufacturers to produce technologically-advanced new cars.