Monday, April 30, 2012

Administration Releases 10-Year Global Change Research Plan

Apr 27: The Obama Administration released a 10-year strategic plan for research related to global change, identifying priorities that will help state and local governments, businesses, and communities prepare for anticipated changes in the global environment, including climate change, in the decades ahead. The Plan -- released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which for more than 20 years has coordinated Federal global change research -- was developed collaboratively by more than 100 Federal scientists. It reflects extensive inputs from stakeholders and the general public, as well as a detailed review by the National Research Council, chartered by Congress to provide independent expert advice to the Nation. The Plan will be implemented through the USGCRP and the 13 Federal departments and agencies it represents. 

    Tom Armstrong, Executive Director of the USGCRP said, "Human actions are altering the atmosphere, the land, and our oceans, placing new pressures on the Earth's ecosystems and threatening the health and economic welfare of our Nation and the world. High-quality and well-coordinated research is essential if we are to better understand and predict future changes, develop strategies to minimize our vulnerabilities, and adapt to changes that can't be avoided."

    Federal research under the USGCRP has for two decades focused largely on detailed documentation of specific environmental changes by satellite and other Earth-observing technologies and the development of sophisticated computer models of the Earth's climate system to predict how such changes will manifest in the near-term. In the ten years going forward that emphasis will expand to incorporate the complex dynamics of ecosystems and human social-economic activities and how those factors influence global change. By including these added dimensions, USGCRP-sponsored research will generate information of unprecedented practical use to decision-makers in a wide range of sectors including agriculture, municipal planning, and public works.  

    Armstrong said, "It is no longer enough to study the isolated physical, chemical, and biological factors affecting global change. Advanced computing technologies and methods now allow us to integrate insights from those disciplines and add important information from the ecological, social, and economic sciences. This new capacity will deepen our understanding of global change processes and help planners in realms as diverse as storm water management, agriculture, and natural resources management."

    The Strategic Plan describes four key goals for the USGCRP during 2012 – 2021:

  • Advance Science: Advance scientific knowledge of the integrated natural and human components of the Earth system, drawing upon physical, chemical, biological, ecological, and behavioral sciences.
  • Inform Decisions: Provide the scientific basis to inform and enable timely decisions on adaptation to and mitigation of global change.
  • Conduct Sustained Assessments: Build a sustained assessment capacity that improves the Nation's ability to understand, anticipate, and respond to global change impacts and vulnerabilities.
  • Communicate and Educate: Broaden public understanding of global change and support the development of a scientific workforce skilled in Earth-system sciences.

    Work towards these goals will help the fulfill its Congressional mandate to "assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change," as called for in the Global Change Research Act of 1990. To achieve these goals, USGCRP is developing an implementation strategy that will draw in part upon its expertise in conducting National Climate Assessments -- broad assessments of global change impacts across U.S. economic sectors, the latest of which is currently under development. In combination with USGCRP's expanding communication and education activities, the new scientific findings and decision-support tools expected to emerge from the Strategic Plan will empower a broad range of stakeholders to make more informed and effective decisions as they prepare for and respond to the many dimensions of global change.

    Access a release from USGCRP and link to more about the Strategic Plan and USGCRP (click here). Access the complete 152-page Research Plan (
click here, 31MB file). [#Climate]

32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

Friday, April 27, 2012

Senate Ag Committee Approves Bipartisan 2012 Farm Bill

Apr 26: The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Chaired by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) with Ranking Member Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) approved the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, a bipartisan Farm Bill by a vote of 16-5. The bill reforms food and agricultural policy by eliminating direct payments and emphasizing the need to strengthen risk management tools for farmers, saving billions of dollars. Overall, the 2012 Senate Farm Bill will reduce the deficit by $23 billion dollars by eliminating unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse. The reforms allow for the strengthening of key initiatives that help farmers and small businesses reach new markets and create American jobs. The measure will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

    Chairman Stabenow said, "The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will save taxpayers billions of dollars while promising a safe and healthy national food supply. By eliminating duplication, and streamlining and consolidating programs, we were able to continue investing in initiatives that help farmers and small businesses create jobs. This bill proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart, cost-effective policies that lay the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous economy.  I am proud that once again the Agriculture Committee was able to work together in a bipartisan way to complete major reforms that save money and grow our economy. We now look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues in a bipartisan way to ensure we enact a Farm Bill this year before the current one expires. Agriculture supports 16 million jobs in our country, and it is absolutely critical to provide farmers the certainty they need to plan and grow by passing a Farm Bill this year."

    Senator Roberts said, "We've worked hard to put together the best bill possible. We've performed our duty to taxpayers by cutting deficit spending while at the same time strengthening and preserving the programs so important to agriculture and rural America. And, we've done it in a bipartisan fashion. I look forward to the bill's consideration on the Senate floor to further the debate on our efforts to save taxpayer dollars, continue to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse, and end redundant programs."

     Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee issued a statement on the Senate bill saying, "I commend Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Roberts and the other members of the Senate Ag Committee for advancing their farm bill today. This is an important first step in the development of the next Farm Bill. I look forward to concluding the House Agriculture Committee's hearing process and working with Ranking Member Peterson and members of the Committee to write the House bill in the coming weeks.

    "I am disappointed by the Senate bill's commodity title because it does not work for all of agriculture. It fails to provide producers a viable safety net and instead locks in profit for a couple of commodities. I have made it clear that my chief priority is making certain that the commodity title is equitable and provides a safety net for all covered commodities and all regions of the country. A shallow loss program is not a safety net. It does not provide protection against price declines over multiple years and it does not work for all commodities."

    The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) issued a release thanking members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, for reauthorizing farm programs that are valuable to the biotechnology industry and ensuring they have the funding to work. BIO President & CEO Jim Greenwood said, "The important energy title programs authorized and funded in this bill are just beginning to have a positive impact in revitalizing rural America, fueling economic growth and creating well-paying opportunities where we need it most -- in manufacturing, energy, agriculture and forestry. These programs can also help meet our responsibilities to revitalize rural areas, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and renew economic growth. The Farm Bill's energy title and proposals to support biomanufacturing will help the United States maintain its competitive leadership in biotechnology, manufacturing and agriculture – ensuring that what we grow here in the United States can be used to make new products here and create jobs here.

    "These programs would provide the highest return on taxpayer dollars and ensure the future of emerging energy and renewable chemical markets, if the bill is passed by the full Congress. These programs already have helped renewable energy companies unlock private capital for construction of advanced biorefineries, something that has been extraordinarily difficult during the recent economic downturn. They also have helped farmers in over 150 counties across 10 states begin to put more than 150,000 acres of underutilized farmland into production of next generation energy crops. The programs have further ignited an explosion of innovation and early commercialization of renewable chemicals here in the United States."

    The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a statement saying it believes the Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee offers a unique opportunity to influence what the nation's farmers grow -- and how they grow it --for years to come.  Justin Tatham, Senior Washington Representative for the Food & Environment Program at UCS said, "The Union of Concerned Scientists lauds Senators Stabenow and Roberts for kicking off the Farm Bill deliberations with a bipartisan committee bill. In some regards, progress has been made, but more needs to be done to expand the production of local and healthy food, ensure basic levels of on-farm conservation, promote the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices, and foster a more robust research agenda.

    "The direction in the committee bill to develop a whole-farm revenue program that offers effective insurance coverage nationwide is a huge step in helping small, local farmers. Funding included in the bill for programs to support organic food production and expand local food systems is critical. . . additional funding and policy changes are needed to help these growing sectors of the agriculture economy reach their full potential. Organic farmers in particular still have a tough row to hoe with the bill's failure to eliminate an unnecessary insurance premium surcharge placed on organic producers. . . we believe the absence of conservation compliance requirements for crop and revenue insurance is a critical flaw." 

    The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) commended the Committee's approval and Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture and forestry programs at NWF said, "The final bill must ensure that farmers receiving taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance do not drain wetlands and cultivate erosion-prone soil without conservation measures. Unfortunately, the bill as it stands now would allow farmers to continue to receive taxpayer-supported crop insurance without complying with such measures. It is unfair to ask taxpayers to help fund insurance for farmers while these same farmers are increasing the risk to downstream communities." NWF said, "The lack of wetlands protection requirements for crop insurance recipients means the estimated $90 billion to be spent on taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance over the next ten years could be subsidizing the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands, resulting in increased downstream flooding and loss of wildlife habitat."

    NWF praised the inclusion of a number of modifications to the farm bill, including an amendment by Senator Thune to discourage the destruction of native prairies, an amendment by Senator Conrad to provide mandatory funding for Energy title programs (including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Rural Energy for America Program) and an amendment by Senator Brown to add nutrient management as a goal of the Regional Conservation Partnerships program, a new initiative hat will strategically direct resources to improve the health of some of the nation's Great Waters such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.

    Access a release from Senator Stabenow that summarizes key provisions (click here). Access a release from Sen. Roberts (click here). Access a copy of the Senate bill, including the amendments that were accepted by the Committee, a section-by-section summary and webcast of the markup procedures (click here). Access the statement from Representative Lucas (click here). Access the BIO release (click here). Access the UCS release (click here). Access the NWF release (click here). [#Agriculture]

32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

Thursday, April 26, 2012

House Motion To Accept Sen. Transportation Bill Fails

Apr 24: The House and Senate have now appointed the members to the Conference Committee to resolve the differences, which are substantial, between the two versions of the reauthorization of the Highway Surface Transportation program [See WIMS 4/24/12]. The House version, H.R.4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, provides a short-term extension and includes highly controversial provisions requiring approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the management and reuse of coal ash. The Senate version, S.1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), provides a two-year $109 billion surface transportation reauthorization.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) named the following 14 Senate conferees: Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), James Inhofe (R-OK), Max Baucus (D-MT), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), David Vitter (R-LA), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and John Hoeven (R-ND).

    On the House side, 20 Republicans and 13 Democrats were named including: Representatives John Mica (R-FL), Don Young (R-AK), John Duncan (R-TN), Bill Shuster (R-PA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R--WA), Larry Buschon (R-IN), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Steve Southerland (R-FL), James Lankford (R-OK), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Fred Upton (R-MI), Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Doc Hastings (R-WA), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Ralph Hall (R-TX), Chip Cravaack (R-MN), Dave Camp (R-MI), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Jerry Costello (D-IL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Tim Bishop (D-NY), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

    In the House, Representative Rahall (D-WV), Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee offered a motion to instruct the House Conferees "to recede from disagreement to the amendment of the Senate." Rep. Rahall explained, "Running these programs through short-term extensions creates tremendous uncertainty among State departments of transportation, public transit agencies, and highway and transit contractors that delay critical highway and transit projects, costing good-paying jobs each step of the way. With more than 2.5 million construction and manufacturing workers still out of work, it is far past time for Congress to enact surface transportation legislation that will remove this uncertainty, create and sustain family-wage jobs, and restore our Nation's economic growth.

   That's why I offer this motion today. We have an opportunity before us to move quickly to pass legislation that can remove this uncertainty and get America back to work. Over a month ago, the Senate passed S. 1813, known as MAP 21, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 74 22. Now, each of us in this body knows how difficult it is for the other body to agree on just about anything. But, unlike the House, the Senate was able to come together to pass bipartisan legislation that will provide States with the certainty that they need to move forward with highway and transit projects and get Americans back to work. It is time for the House, believe it or not, to follow the other body's lead and pass S. 1813. . ."

    Representative Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, rebutted the Rahall motion and said in part, "Today they propose closing down that free and open process. Let's just adopt what the Senate tossed over to us. I say 'no,' and I say 'no' for a whole host of reasons. The Senate proposal is a proposal that will bankrupt the trust fund. The Senate proposal is a path to just building paths, to resurfacing, to short-term jobs, not answering the call of the people who sent us here to make certain that their transportation money, when they go fill up their gas tank, pay for 1 gallon of gas, 18.4 cents comes to Washington in the trust fund, and we spend it. That's what this sets the policy for, what's eligible for receiving those Federal dollars.

    The Rahall motion to instruct failed by a vote of 181-242. The vote include 180 Democrats and 1 Republican voting for the motion; and 238 Republicans and 4 Democrats voting against it.

    Access legislative details for H.R.4348 (click here). Access legislative details for S.1813 (click here). Access the complete, lengthy House Floor debate on the motion to recede and instruct (click here). Access a release from House Republicans on the Keystone XL and coal ash provisions (click here). [#Transport]

Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals Since 1980

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

IEA Report Calls For Faster Deployment Of Clean Energy Technologies

Apr 25: The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported to the ministers and representatives of nations that account for four-fifths of global energy demand that, "while progress is being made on renewable energy, most clean energy technologies are not being deployed quickly enough." The report -- Tracking Clean Energy Progress -- the Agency's annual progress report highlights the rapid progress made in some renewable technologies, notably the solar panels easily installed by households and businesses (solar PV) and in onshore wind technologies.
    IEA indicated that in fact, onshore wind has seen 27% average annual growth over the past decade, and solar PV has grown at 42%, albeit from a small base. IEA said, even more impressive is the 75% reduction in system costs for solar PV in as little as three years in some countries. This serves as evidence that rapid technology change is possible. Unfortunately, however, the report concludes that most clean energy technologies are not on track to make their required contribution to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and thereby provide a more secure energy system.

    IEA Deputy Executive Director Ambassador Richard Jones said, "We have a responsibility and a golden opportunity to act. Energy-related CO2 emissions are at historic highs; under current policies, we estimate that energy use and CO2 emissions would increase by a third by 2020, and almost double by 2050. This would likely send global temperatures at least 6°C higher. Such an outcome would confront future generations with significant economic, environmental and energy security hardships -- a legacy that I know none of us wishes to leave behind."

    The report was released at the third Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) in London and urges aggressive policy action to take full advantage of the benefits offered by clean energy technologies. In sounding the alarm over the report's findings, Ambassador Jones stressed the positive role the CEM can play in improving the situation. He said, "The ministers meeting this week in London have an incredible opportunity before them. It is my hope that they heed our warning of insufficient progress, and act to seize the security, economic and environmental benefits that a clean-energy transition can bring."

    The report notes that many technologies with great potential for energy and emissions savings are making "halting progress at best." IEA notes that, "Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not seeing the necessary rates of investment to develop full-scale demonstration projects, and nearly half of new coal-fired power plants are still being built with inefficient technology. Vehicle fuel-efficiency improvement is slow, and significant untapped energy-efficiency potential remains in the building and industry sectors."

    In addition, while government targets for electric vehicles (20 million by 2020) are ambitious, as are continued nuclear expansion plans in many countries, translating plans into reality is easier said than done. Manufacturers' production targets for electric vehicles after 2014 are highly uncertain; and increasing public opposition to nuclear power is proving challenging to address. The report offers three over-arching policy recommendations for changing this status quo and moving clean-energy technologies to the mainstream market:
  • First, level the playing field for clean energy technologies. This means ensuring that energy prices reflect the "true cost" of energy -- accounting for the positive and negative impacts of energy production and consumption;
  • Second, unlock the potential of energy efficiency, the "hidden fuel" of the future. Making sure that energy is not wasted and that it is used in the best possible way is the most cost-effective action and must be the first step of any policy aimed at building a sustainable energy mix;
  • Finally, accelerate energy innovation and public support for research, development and demonstration. This will help lay the groundwork for private sector innovation, and speed technologies to market.
    The IEA is an autonomous organization which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond. Founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis, the IEA's initial role was to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets. While this continues to be a key aspect of its work, the IEA has evolved and expanded. It is at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing reliable and unbiased research, statistics, analysis and recommendations.
    Access a release from IEA and link to additional information (click here). Access the complete 82-page report (click here). [#Energy/Renewable]
32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professional

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

House Passes Controversial Version Of Surface Transportation Bill

Apr 18: The U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version of an extension of surface transportation law by a vote of 293 to 127. Republicans said the bill, H.R.4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, "includes important provisions to significantly cut the red tape that delays highway and bridge projects across the country. The measure also includes a provision that will lower energy costs for Americans and decrease reliance on unstable foreign sources of energy." The House-passed bill included two highly controversial provisions from the Energy and Commerce Committee including requiring approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the management and reuse of coal ash.
    On March 14, the full Senate approved S.1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), a two-year $109 billion surface transportation bill by a vote of 74-22. Funding for the Surface Transportation program which was set to expire on March 31, was extended 90-days to June 30 [See WIMS 3/30/12].
    The day before the House approval, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy indicating, "The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 4348." The Administration which supported the Senate bill said the House bill, which would simply extend current authority through the end of the fiscal year, "would miss a critical opportunity to provide more certainty to States and localities as they undertake the long-term planning and execution of projects and programs that are essential to creating and keeping American workers in good paying jobs, improving the Nation's surface transportation infrastructure, and ensuring roadway safety."
    The White House said further, ". . .the Administration is strongly opposed to this bill because it seeks to circumvent a longstanding and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest and for assessing the environmental impacts by mandating the permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline project, despite the fact that the pipeline route has yet to be identified and there is no complete assessment of its potential impacts, including impacts on health and safety, the economy, foreign policy, energy security, and the environment. . ."
    Representative John Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and primary sponsor of the bill said, "This bill contains no tax increases, earmarks, or new federal government programs, which may disappoint Democrats, but this legislation will help move the process forward in working to resolve differences with the Senate. When the President first sold the stimulus as an infrastructure bill, he failed to address the red tape that delays the approval of transportation projects. 'Shovel-ready' became a national joke because it takes so long to get the bureaucratic approvals for a project. This bill includes important provisions to significantly reduce the red tape that leaves projects and jobs behind."

    Rep. Mica continued, "This bill also includes provisions to help ensure funds collected for the maintenance and improvement of our nation's harbors are invested for that purpose. In addition, this bill moves forward with the Keystone pipeline project. While the Administration meanders on developing any kind of real energy policy, this measure will help lower energy costs and create jobs for Americans, particularly important as gasoline prices continue to skyrocket because of the squeeze that the Obama Administration has put on production of our energy assets here at home."

    Representative John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), Chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee said, "This legislation will allow programs to continue through the fiscal year and provide predictability during the summer construction season. The environmental streamlining provisions would also eliminate duplication by providing a single system to review decisions. It reduces bureaucratic delay by requiring concurrent, instead of consecutive, project reviews and setting deadlines for the completion of environmental reviews. These changes will cut the delivery process in half and save taxpayers a great deal of money."

    House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) praised the House passed legislation and said, "The House is on record again in support of the Keystone XL energy pipeline -- a project President Obama blocked, personally lobbied against, then tried to take credit for, and now says he'll veto. There's no telling where the president stands from one day to the next on Keystone, but he knows the pipeline has broad and bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people. He knows it will create tens of thousands of new American jobs. And he knows that if he continues to stand in the way, the Canadian government will bypass the United States and ship their energy – and the jobs that come with it -- to countries like China.

    "Keystone is a critical part of our 'all of the above' energy strategy. The higher energy prices go, the more we all pay for everything from gasoline to groceries, and it's taking a real toll on families and small businesses. That's why I hope President Obama and Senate Democrats will get moving, and join the American people and Republicans in supporting this common-sense bill."

    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and sponsor of the Senate-passed bill issued a statement saying, "The fact that the House voted to take a step forward on a surface transportation bill is encouraging -- as long as they follow through and immediately appoint conferees so that Congress can complete its work and get a bill to the President's desk. I have spoken to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and he has committed to appoint Senate conferees as soon as Senate Rules allow. The final bill must be truly bipartisan so it can pass both Houses of Congress. The economic recovery really depends on our bipartisan action, because the transportation and construction sectors have such a huge impact on the nation's economy."
    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the EPW Committee and a cosponsor of the Senate bill said, "I am pleased that the House has passed its short-term highway bill extension, as it means that the Senate and the House can proceed to conference on a long-term highway bill. Now we can get to the important work of providing much-needed funding to states to build and repair our nation's highways and bridges, and we can make crucial reforms to the federal highway program to ensure the taxpayer's money is best spent. I look forward to joining my colleagues in this bicameral, bipartisan effort as we work together to get the highway bill to the President's desk." 
    House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) issued a statement saying, "Today, the House took a stand for jobs and affordable energy. For too long, President Obama's policies have put American jobs, our economy, and our energy security at risk. Today, we tell the president enough is enough. If he won't lead, Congress will. The legislation we passed today will protect thousands of jobs from the administration's dangerous overreach, prevent higher energy costs, and put our nation on a path toward greater energy security.  Families and business across the country are desperate for relief from high gas prices, and still the president refuses to act on the Keystone XL pipeline. . ." Regarding the coal ash amendment, Rep. Upton said, ". . .coal ash is safely and responsibly managed without sacrificing jobs. The amendment adopted today is necessary to escape the costly repercussions of EPA's heavy-handed approach to regulation, which could put as many as 300,000 jobs at risk and drive up electricity rates.
    Access a release from House Republicans on the Transportation Committee (click here). Access the White House statement of policy (click here). Access a release from Speaker Boehner (click here). Access a release from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access a release from Sen. Inhofe (click here).  Access a release from Rep. Upton (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.4348 (click here). Access legislative details for S.1813 (click here). [#Transport]
32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

Monday, April 23, 2012

EPA Issues Final Oil & Gas Production Air Standards

Apr 18: U.S. EPA announced that, in response to a court deadline, it has finalized standards to reduce harmful air pollution associated with oil and natural gas production. EPA said the updated standards, required by the Clean Air Act, were informed by the important feedback from a range of stakeholders including the public, public health groups, states and industry. As a result, the final standards reduce implementation costs while also ensuring they are achievable and can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies as well as processes already in use at approximately half of the fractured natural gas wells in the United States.
    EPA said the technologies will not only reduce 95 percent of the harmful emissions from the wells that contribute to smog and lead to health impacts, they will also enable companies to collect additional natural gas that can be sold. Natural gas is a key component of the nation's clean energy future and the standards make sure that production can continue to expand while reducing impacts to public health, and most importantly builds on steps already being taken by industry leaders.

    EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "The president has been clear that he wants to continue to expand production of important domestic resources like natural gas, and today's standard supports that goal while making sure these fuels are produced without threatening the health of the American people. By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will not only protect our health, but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market. They're an important step toward tapping future energy supplies without exposing American families and children to dangerous health threats in the air they breathe."

    In a release EPA indicates that when natural gas is produced, some of the gas escapes the well and may not be captured by the producing company. These gases can pollute the air and as a result threaten public health. Consistent with states that have already put in place similar requirements, the updated EPA standards include the first Federal air rules for natural gas wells that are hydraulically fractured, specifically requiring operators of new fractured natural gas wells to use cost-effective technologies and practices to capture natural gas that might otherwise escape the well, which can subsequently be sold. EPA's analysis of the final rules shows that they are highly cost-effective, relying on widely available technologies and practices already deployed at approximately half of all fractured wells, and consistent with steps industry is already taking in many cases to capture additional natural gas for sale, offsetting the cost of compliance. Together, EPA said the rules will result in $11 to $19 million in savings for industry each year. In addition to cutting pollution at the wellhead, the final standards also address emissions from storage tanks and other equipment.

    EPA also indicated that, in line with the executive order released by the President last week on natural gas development [See WIMS 4/13/12], the final rule received important interagency feedback and provides industry flexibilities. Based on new data provided during the public comment period, the rule establishes a phase-in period that will ensure emissions reduction technology is broadly available. During the first phase, until January 2015, owners and operators must either flare their emissions or use emissions reduction technology called "green completions," technologies that are already widely deployed at wells. In 2015, all new fractured wells will be required to use green completions. The final rule does not require new Federal permits. Instead, it sets clear standards and uses enhanced reporting to strengthen transparency and accountability, and ensure compliance, while establishing a consistent set of national standards to safeguard public health and the environment.

    EPA said that an estimated 13,000 new and existing natural gas wells are fractured or re-fractured each year. As those wells are being prepared for production, they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to smog formation, and air toxics, including benzene and hexane, which can cause cancer and other serious health effects. In addition, the rule is expected to yield a significant environmental co-benefit by reducing methane, the primary constituent of natural gas. Methane, when released directly to the atmosphere, is a potent greenhouse gas -- more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

    EPA indicated that during the nearly 100-day public comment period, the Agency received more than 150,000 comments on the proposed rules from the public, industry, environmental groups and states. The Agency also held three public hearings. EPA said, "The updated standards were informed by the important feedback received through the public comment period, reducing implementation cost and ensuring the achievable standard can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies and processes already in use."
    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), said that contrary to President Obama's reelection rhetoric, the new regulations are "the latest in his administration's war on natural gas production." Senator Inhofe said, "The Obama EPA has been working aggressively to assert control over natural gas production so that they can regulate it out of existence -- and this rule is just the latest in that grand scheme. It's no secret that EPA has been trying hard to manufacture a correlation between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing, but in each case, they were unable to find sound scientific evidence to make this link. So now, they're attempting to usurp control through air regulations. EPA has given us few details about the rule, and while I look forward to seeing it in full, I have serious concerns about its potential impacts, particularly on smaller producers. . ."
    Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) praised the rule saying, "These new EPA safety and environmental standards will ensure that less pollution escapes into our air and our atmosphere, and that the natural gas industry won't be able to escape proper oversight of their practices. American natural gas will be a vital part of our economic and environmental progress, but only if the industry accepts the fact that the public wants assurances that drilling practices are done safely and don't result in needless releases of pollution into the environment. These new standards will encourage safer, cleaner natural gas that can then be used to fuel a manufacturing renaissance in America, and cut our use of dirtier fuels like old-style coal power plants. The natural gas industry should embrace these standards as a responsible way to continue the expansion of domestic natural gas, and should reject the proposed trend towards sending our natural gas abroad, which will raise costs to consumers and industry."
    Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and other Republican Committee member expressed concern about the rule. Chairman Upton said, "This rule is another example of EPA expanding its role in national energy policy. The president says he wants to promote American energy production, yet he continues to allow EPA to issue regulations that increase environmental regulatory requirements and impose more red tape for domestic producers of affordable energy. American energy production on state and private lands remains a bright spot in our economy but EPA's layers of red tape threaten to stifle job creation and industry growth, especially for small businesses. We should be focusing on solutions to remove government barriers to affordable energy. Instead, the administration continues to layer regulation after regulation that will drive electricity and fuel prices even higher."
    The American Petroleum Institute (API) said it "recognized improvements" in the rule and Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Howard Feldman commented saying, "The industry has led efforts to reduce emissions by developing new technologies that were adopted in the rule. EPA has made some improvements in the rules that allow our companies to continue reducing emissions while producing the oil and natural gas our country needs. This is a large and complicated rulemaking for an industry so critical to the economy, and we need to thoroughly review the final rule to fully understand its impacts."
    In a joint release, environmental groups praised EPA rule saying it is the "first federal safeguard aimed at curbing air pollution from hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking.'" They said the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS) "will benefit the health of Americans and our environment in many ways. The updated standards will result in major reductions in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic benzene and methane, a highly potent contributor to climate disruption. These pollutants are known to cause asthma attacks, hospital admissions, emergency room visits, cancer and even premature death." Groups commenting on the rule included: Sierra Club, Environment America, Earthjustice, Earthworks, Clean Air Task Force and Clean Water Action.
    Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said, "EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is taking an important first step in closing loopholes for the natural gas industry and addressing dangerous air quality levels in and near frack-fields across the country. The natural gas industry dumps massive amounts of air pollutants into our air every day, sickening families and children.  An industry that touts its ability to efficiently drill thousands of wells thousands of feet into the earth is crying wolf when it claims it can't build enough tanks to capture wellhead pollution.  It's time we clean up the natural gas industry's dirty and reckless practices."
    Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said, "Left to its own devices, the oil and gas industry has turned the clear skies over Wyoming as smoggy as the car-choked highways of Los Angeles. For decades, industry had a free pollution pass. Thanks to a court victory, that changes today. There is more work to be done to protect Americans living near oil and gas fields from cancer and other unacceptable health threats, but this rule from EPA is an important first step."
    Access a release from EPA (click here). Access the complete 588-page final rule and extensive background, summary information, regulatory impact analysis and more (click here). Access the complete statement from Senator Inhofe (click here). Access a release from Rep. Markey (click here). Access a release from the House E&C Committee Republicans (click here).
Access a release from API (click here). Access a release from the environmental groups (click here). Access a separate release from EPA with favorable comments on the rule (click here). [#Air, #Energy/Frack, #Energy/OilGas]
32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

Monday, April 16, 2012

Subscribers & Readers Notice:

We will be taking our Spring publication break this week. 
We will resume publication on Monday, April 23, 2012.
During our break you may want to
follow some of the news on our:
WIMS Environmental News Blogs:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Clean Energy Markets Suffer From Political Bickering & Uncertainty

Apr 12: Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reports that after clocking up a record in 2011, new financial investment in clean energy in first quarter of 2012 was the weakest since the depths of the financial crisis in Q1 2009. In a release BNEF indicates that clean energy investment fell sharply in the first quarter of 2012, and new financial investment was down 28% from Q4 2011 to just $27 billion; it was 22% lower than the equivalent figure in the first quarter of last year. New financial investment includes venture capital, private equity, public markets and asset finance, but excludes small-scale projects and corporate and government RD&D, on which Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports only annually. 

    The first quarter 2012 new financial investment total included $24.2 billion in asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects, such as wind farms and solar parks, plus $1.9 billion of venture capital and private equity investment in specialist clean energy companies. Just $601 million was raised on the public markets by quoted companies during the period.

    Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said, "A $27 billion quarterly figure is not a disaster, but it is the weakest since the dismal $20 billion seen in the first quarter of 2009, when the financial crisis was at its worst. The weak Q1 2012 number reflects the destabilizing uncertainty over future clean energy support in both the European Union -- driven by the financial crisis -- and the US -- driven by the expiry of stimulus programmes and the electoral cycle. There is no sign of a rapid turnaround in either of these regions in the next 12 months. Clean energy technologies, particularly solar photovoltaics and onshore wind, continue to fall in price and approach competitiveness with fossil-fuel power -- but politicians in many countries appear to be ducking the decisions that would ensure that the sector maintains its growth trajectory. We are seeing growth in some of the non-core markets around the world, but they will have a tough job replacing weakening demand in the developed world."

    In the U.S., the key support mechanism for wind -- the Production Tax Credit -- is due to expire at the end of this year unless Congress agrees to extend it [See WIMS 4/9/12]; while in Europe, governments in key countries such as Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland and the UK have announced cuts in incentives for renewable power projects, in some cases leaving investors guessing about their likely future returns.

    Looking at the different categories of investment in Q1, asset finance of $24.2 billion was 30% down from the fourth quarter and 13% below that in the first quarter of 2011. There continued to be some large renewable energy projects financed -- including the 396MW Marena Wind Portfolio in Mexico for $961 million, the 100MW KVK Chinnu solar thermal plant in India for approximately $400 million, and the 201MW Post Rock Wind farm in Kansas, US, for an estimated $376 million.

    The largest projects financed in Europe in Q1 -- in the face of a difficult market for bank lending following last autumn's euro area crisis – were the 150MW Monsson Pantelina wind farm in Romania at $317 million, and the 60.4MW SunEdison Karadzhalovo solar PV plant in Bulgaria at $248 million.

Venture capital and private equity investment held up well at $1.9 billion, just 2% below that in the fourth quarter of last year and 6% higher than the first quarter of 2011. The biggest deals were $130 million in equity raised by US electric vehicle company Fisker Automotive, a $102.6 million injection into UK-based biomass-to-power firm Tamar Energy, and an $81 million fund-raise by US PV installer SolarCity.

    Public market investment in clean energy of $601 million was down 12% from the fourth quarter, and 87% from the first quarter of 2011 -- a plunge that was not surprising, given the poor performance of sector shares in the last year. The WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index, or NEX, which tracks the movements of 97 clean energy shares worldwide, fell 40% in 2011 and clawed back just 7% in the first quarter of 2012 as world stock markets rebounded. The largest two public market deals in clean energy in Q1 were both initial public offerings by US companies in the biofuel sector -- Ceres, a developer of genetically-modified energy crops, raised $74.8m, and Renewable Energy Group, a maker of biodiesel, raised $68.6 million.

    Liebreich said, "The outlook for investment in the remainder of the year remains difficult. The rapidly improving cost-competitiveness of renewable energy technologies is stimulating activity, particularly in developing countries. However it is becoming harder to see the sector worldwide beating last year's record, unless the storm-clouds lift in Europe and U.S. Congress stops bickering sends some clear signals about the importance of new energy technologies. Meanwhile, continuing improvements in the sector's economics mean that companies which survive these next few years, whether on the industry's supply or demand side, will be extremely well positioned for the next growth phase."

    BNEF reports that in 2011, overall clean energy investment, including the "financial new investment" measure calculated quarterly but also annually-calculated totals for government and corporate research and development and small-scale projects such as rooftop solar, was a record $263 billion. This compares to 2010's total of $247 billion and just $54 billion back in 2004. A final figure for 2011 will be published by mid-year as part of the UN Global Trends in Renewable Investment report, which will include information on late-reporting transactions from 2011.
    Meanwhile, the Pew Environmental Group released a separate report entitled, Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2011 Edition. Pew reports that Among Group of Twenty (G-20) nations, the United States reclaimed the top spot from China, which led the global clean energy race since 2009. Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and India were also among the nations that most successfully attracted private investments last year. 

    Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew's Clean Energy Program said, "Clean energy investment, excluding research and development, has grown by 600 percent since 2004, on the basis of effective national policies that create market certainty. This increase was due in part to the number of countries that have implemented effective national policies to support the clean energy market. In the United States, which attracted $48 billion last year, investors took advantage of the country's stimulus programs before they expired at the end of 2011, as well as the production tax credit for electricity from renewable energy, which is to end this December." Pew reports additional key findings from the report as follows:
  • Led by 42 percent growth in the United States and 15 percent in Brazil, investment in the Americas region grew by more than 21 percent to $63.1 billion, faster than any other region. 
  • The clean energy sector in the Asia/Oceania region increased more than 10 percent to $75 billion. Relatively flat investment in China was mitigated by sharp gains in India, Japan, and Indonesia, which were among the fastest-growing clean energy markets in the world. 
  • The clean energy sector in the European region grew by a modest 4 percent but remains the leading destination for such investment, at $99.3 billion. Significant investment growth in Italy, the United Kingdom, and Spain helped to offset declines in other European Union member states. Germany and Italy continue to lead the world in deployment of small, distributed solar photovoltaic power installations, accounting for more than 50 percent of worldwide solar capacity additions, and 38 percent of G-20 solar technology investments.
  • The United States remains the leader in venture capital financing, an important measure of energy innovation, attracting $6 billion, or 70 percent of the G-20 total. Germany and China were distant followers, with $635 million and $458 million, respectively, in venture capital investments.
    Access the summary from BNEF (click here). Access a release from Pew (click here). Access the links to the complete 56-page Pew report and executive summary (click here). [#Energy/Clean, #Energy/Renewables]
32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Oral Arguments On Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

Apr 12: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is hearing oral arguments in lawsuits over U.S. EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR). The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule reduces the sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants across 28 eastern states. Supporters of the rule indicate that the pollution drifts across the borders of those states, contributing to dangerous -- and sometimes lethal -- levels of particulate and smog pollution in downwind states.

    EPA issued the rule under the "Good Neighbor" protections of the Clean Air Act, which ensure that the emissions from one state's power plants do not cause harmful pollution levels in neighboring states. On December 30, 2011, in one of the last official judicial environmental actions of 2011, the D.C. Circuit issued a ruling to stay U.S. EPA's controversial Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) finalized on July 6, 2011, and published in the Federal Register on August 8, 2011 [See WIMS 7/7/11]. According to the 2-page Court order issued on December 30, the CSAPR, which just became effective on October 7, 2011, is now on hold pending judicial review until at least April 2012 [See WIMS 1/3/12].

    According to EPA and supporters, CSAPR would reduce power plant sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and oxides of nitrogen by 54 percent from 2005 levels. These emissions and the resulting particulate pollution and ozone (more commonly known as soot and smog) impair air quality and harm public health -- both near the plants and hundreds of miles downwind. They indicate that CSAPR would provide healthier air for 240 million Americans in downwind states. EPA estimates that the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, when fully implemented, would: Save up to 34,000 lives; Prevent 15,000 heart attacks; Prevent 400,000 asthma attacks; and Provide $120 billion to $280 billion in health benefits for the nation each year.

    Nine states (CT, DE, IL, MA, MD, NY, NC, RI, VT), the District of Columbia, five major cities (Baltimore, Bridgeport, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the American Lung Association, the Clean Air Council, NRDC, Sierra Club, and several major power companies (Calpine, Exelon and Public Service Enterprise Group) have all intervened in support of the clean air protections. On the other side are: other power companies (AEP, Southern, GenOn, Luminant) and states including AL, FL, GA, IN, KS, LA, MI, MS, NE, OH, OK, SC, TX, VA, WI .

    Access a release from EDF (click here). Access the briefs for and against the rule posted on the EDF website and link to fact sheets and economic benefits by states (click here). Access EPA's CSAPR website for complete background and details (click here). [#Air, #CADC]

32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

CBD Petitions CEQ To Act On Bat-Killing White-Nose Syndrome

Apr 11: The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to take immediate action to stem the spread of white-nose syndrome, a rapidly spreading disease which they indicate has killed nearly 7 million bats across the eastern United States and is quickly moving west. CBD urged the council to direct Federal land management agencies to take measures to prevent the further spread of the disease, which in just six years has expanded from a single cave in upstate New York to affect bats in 19 states and four Canadian provinces.

    Mollie Matteson, CBD conservation advocate said, "The loss of bats to white-nose syndrome is an unprecedented natural disaster that will have real financial consequences for many Americans. Not only do some bats species face extinction, but American farmers stand to lose an estimated $22 billion in lost insect-eating services that bats provide. This crisis is deepening by the day and it's time for the highest reaches of our government to take action." The Center's petition asks the White House to direct Federal land management agencies -- including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, which collectively manage millions of acres across the United States -- to enact consistent regulations limiting human entry to caves on public lands in order to prevent spread of the disease to the western United States and other areas. 

    CBD indicated that those steps are needed because white-nose syndrome has been found to be caused by a newly described fungus, aptly named Geomyces destructans, that is easily carried on the shoes, clothes or gear of any person visiting contaminated caves and is very likely being spread by people. Indeed, all evidence indicates that the disease was recently and inadvertently introduced to North America by a cave visitor on both continents. Recognizing these realities, some agencies have enacted cave closures and decontamination procedures, but many have not, including most federal land management agencies in the West, where the disease has not yet spread and can still be prevented. Matteson said, "Despite the severity and rapid spread of this disease, the response from federal land managers has been inconsistent and in many cases lackluster. This crisis begs a comprehensive response that only the White House can provide."

    CBD indicates in a release that already this winter, white-nose syndrome has spread to new areas in the Southeast and Midwest, showing up for the first time in Missouri, Alabama and Delaware and in more areas in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Bats also transmit the fungus, but they are not capable of migrations longer than a few hundred miles. Concern about long-distance transport of the fungus by people has prompted calls by scientists, including those with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, for restrictions on all but essential access to bat caves. In 2010, the Center petitioned Federal agencies to enact comprehensive restrictions on nonessential human access to caves, but those restrictions have not been enacted in many areas.

    Nine species of bat have been found with the white-nose fungus, and of those, six species have experienced mortality, several of them at rates approaching 100 percent in affected caves. Biologists fear that several bat species, including the once-common little brown bat, may soon become extinct. Scientists do not yet have an effective treatment; the only known way to contain the spread of white-nose is to reduce the risk of human transport of the fungus by closing caves to nonessential access and requiring decontamination procedures of those still entering caves.

    Access a release from CBD and link to the petition and more information on the white-nose syndrome (click here). Access the SaveOurBats website (click here). [#Wildlife]

32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Paper Describes Natural Gas "Technology Warming Potential"

Apr 9: A new scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) offers an enhanced method for assessing climate impacts from natural gas development and use using a new approach called "Technology Warming Potential." Specifically, this approach reveals the inherent climatic trade-offs of different policy and investment choices involving electricity and transportation. It illustrates the importance of accounting for methane leakage across the value chain of natural gas (i.e. production, processing and delivery) when considering fuel-switching scenarios from gasoline, diesel fuel and coal to natural gas.

    A new methane leakage model released today, created by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and based on the science described in the PNAS paper, allows anyone to test a range of scenarios to quantify the climate benefits, or damages, of natural gas production and usage given specific methane leakage rates. Users can vary the key system attributes independently to see how they affect net radiative forcing (the primary index used to quantify the effect of greenhouse gases [GHGs] on global temperatures) from U.S. emissions over time.

    Natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels when combusted, but methane leakage from production and transportation of natural gas has the potential to remove some or all of those benefits, depending on the leakage rate. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and a greenhouse pollutant many times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal contributor to man-made climate change. The paper uses the best available estimates on methane emissions from U.S. EPA.  At the same time, EDF said it is working to obtain extensive empirical data on methane released to the atmosphere across the natural gas supply chain, since the climatic bottom line of fuel switching scenarios involving natural gas is very sensitive to this parameter.

    Steve Hamburg, EDF's chief scientist and coauthor of the paper said, "Measuring how much gas is lost to the atmosphere and where the leaks are occurring will help to further target leak reduction opportunities to ensure that natural gas will help mitigate climate change. Such a strategy could yield enormous environmental and health benefits."

    The PNAS paper provides illustrative calculations with EPA's current estimate of the methane leakage rate. The model allows users to plug in different variables and observe the outcome. Thus the paper does not draw hard and fast conclusions about the future implications of any kind of fuel shifting, nor does it answer the question of whether natural gas generation or natural gas-powered vehicles will be better or worse for the climate. What it does do is provide those answers in terms of the leak rates at which fuel switching produces climate benefits at all points in time. It introduces the science required to accurately identify where the challenges lie.

    Key findings of the PNAS paper, based on the best available estimates on methane emissions from the EPA, include:

  • Assuming U.S. EPA's 2009 leakage rate of 2.4% (from well to city), new natural gas combined cycle power plants reduce climate impacts compared to new coal plants; this case is true as long as leakage remains under 3.2%.
  • Assuming EPA's estimates for leak rates, compressed natural gas (CNG)-fueled vehicles are not a viable mitigation strategy for climate change because of methane leakage from natural gas production, delivery infrastructure and from the vehicles themselves. For light-duty CNG cars to become a viable short-term climate strategy, methane leakage would need to be kept below 1.6% of total natural gas produced (approximately half the current amount for well to wheels -- note difference from well to city).
  • Methane emissions would need to be cut by more than two-thirds to immediately produce climate benefits in heavy duty natural gas-powered trucks.
  • At current leakage rate estimates, converting a fleet of heavy duty diesel vehicles to natural gas would result in nearly 300 years of climate damage before any benefits were achieved.

    A number of scientific papers on the climatic implications of natural gas production and use have been published in the last year, inadvertently figuring into a growing sense of confusion due to conflicting conclusions. The PNAS paper tries to clear up some of this confusion by addressing the analytical challenge of comparing the time-dependent effects on climate of methane by using the Technology Warming Potential approach. The paper specifically illustrates this approach to compare the climate influence (i.e. changes in radiative forcing) of fuel switching scenarios involving natural gas.  

    Steven Hamburg, EDF's chief scientist and coauthor of the paper said, "Failing to reduce methane leaks has the potential to eliminate much, if not all, of the greenhouse gas advantage of natural gas over coal. If we want natural gas to be an accepted part of a strategy for achieving energy independence and moving to a clean energy future, it's critical that industry, regulators and other stakeholders work together to quantify the existing methane leakage rate and commit to reducing it to one percent or below if, as expected, the leakage is currently higher than that. One percent is the magic number."

    Access a release from EDF with links to the full text of the PNAS paper and the EDF methane leakage model (click here). [#Climate, #Energy/NatGas]

32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

Monday, April 09, 2012

Rep. Markey Urges Republicans To Support Renewable Energy

Apr 6: Following the release of a report by the Department of Energy that shows a renewable energy incentive program created tens of thousands of jobs, Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) challenged House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republicans to support the development of American clean energy and end unnecessary tax subsidies for the biggest oil companies. Markey said that Speaker Boehner and his colleagues recently questioned the effectiveness of the program, and Congressional Republicans have repeatedly attacked the jobs potential from America's clean energy entrepreneurs.
    The report, Preliminary Analysis of the Jobs and Economic Impacts of Renewable Energy Projects Supported by the §1603 Treasury Grant Program, was conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and analyzed the impact of the Section 1603 Renewable Energy Grant Program. According to the report, through November 10, 2011, the §1603 grant program has provided approximately $9.0 billion in funds to over 23,000 PV and large wind projects, comprising 13.5 GW of electric generating capacity. This represents roughly 50% of total non-hydropower renewable capacity additions in 2009–2011. Total investment in these projects, which includes capital investments from all private, regional, state, and federal sources (including §1603 funds), is estimated to exceed $30 billion. These PV and large wind projects account for approximately 94% of the total generation capacity of projects funded under the §1603 program and represent 92% of total payments. The estimated gross jobs, earnings, and economic output supported by the PV and large wind projects that received §1603 funds are summarized below and in Table ES-1:
  • Construction- and installation-related expenditures are estimated to have supported an average of 52,000–75,000 direct and indirect jobs per year over the program's operational period (2009–20115). This represents a total of 150,000– 220,000 job-years. These expenditures are also estimated to have supported $9 billion–$14 billion in total earnings and $26 billion–$44 billion in economic output over this period. This represents an average of $3.2 billion–$4.9 billion per year in total earnings and $9 billion–$15 billion per year in output.
  • Indirect jobs, or jobs in the manufacturing and associated supply-chain sectors, account for a significantly larger share of the estimated jobs (43,000–66,000 jobs per year) than those directly supporting the design, development, and construction/installation of systems (9,400 per year).
  • The annual operation and maintenance (O&M) of these PV and wind systems are estimated to support between 5,100 and 5,500 direct and indirect jobs per year on an ongoing basis over the 20- to 30-year estimated life of the systems. Similar to the construction phase, the number of jobs directly supporting the O&M of the systems is significantly less than the number of jobs supporting manufacturing and associated supply chains (910 and 4,200–4,600 jobs per year, respectively).
    In his letter to Speaker John Boehner and Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Representative Markey asked the Republicans to stop their attacks on clean energy programs, and to not raise taxes on the wind industry at the end of this year. He said, "Republicans have prevented the extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy, which actually supports putting electricity on the grid, creating new jobs." The energy-producing incentive is set to expire at the end of 2012.
    Representative Markey said, "Supporting American clean energy businesses puts power in our homes and will make America an energy and manufacturing powerhouse for decades to come. Many Republicans in Congress have been vocal supporters for continuing wasteful oil company subsidies, while at the same time pushing to raise taxes on wind energy. If that were to happen, upwards of 37,000 clean energy jobs would be eliminated around the country."
    Markey cited one example of "unnecessary oil company subsidies protected by Republicans" is the deduction for "geological and geophysical expenditures", which he said is the most recent tax subsidy that was given to the oil and gas industry in 2005 by a Republican Congress and President George W. Bush. Markey said, "This subsidy allows companies to deduct the costs associated with searching for oil over two years rather than seven years, which costs U.S. taxpayers $1.4 billion over 10 years."
    He also pointed to other subsidies for the oil and gas industry -- like the deduction for "intangible drilling costs" -- are far more costly and have been around far longer. That tax break, which was instituted back in 1916, allows oil companies to write off certain costs immediately rather than over the life of the asset, as is customary for most companies. He said, "Since 1968, it has cost U.S. taxpayer $78 billion." 
    Access the release from Rep. Markey and link to the complete letter and related information (click here). Access the complete NREL report (click here). [#Energy/Renewables, #Energy/OilGas]

Friday, April 06, 2012

Energy Department Update On Renewable Loans & Projects

Apr 5: In follow-up to a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee hearing where Secretary Chu was asked how the Department of Energy (DOE) planned to move forward on providing loans and loan guarantees for the deployment of new technologies, the Department has provided an update on the status of the loan program. DOE submitted a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member - Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), respectively -- on the process for making loan guarantees under the 1703 loan program. DOE indicates:

"As you know, the §1703 loan program was adopted as part of the landmark, bipartisan Energy Policy Act of 2005 to provide loan guarantees to cutting edge clean energy projects that, because of the risks involved with newer technologies, are typically unable to obtain conventional bank financing.  Last April's budget agreement reached by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Boehner and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Reid provided an additional $170 million in loan loss reserve funding to support §1703 loan guarantees that could not be funded under the expiring §1705 loan guarantee program that was funded by the Recovery Act.  Separately, the bipartisan agreement provided the Department with $1.5 billion in additional loan guarantee authority for projects where the loan loss reserve is funded by the project sponsor.

"The §1705 loan program included a September 30, 2011 deadline by which projects had to not only complete due diligence and close on their loans, but also start construction.  Faced with a large volume of worthy projects, but a limited number able to meet this mandate, in May 2011 the Department sent letters to more than three dozen project sponsors, informing them that they would not qualify under §1705, but could be considered in the future for loan guarantees under the §1703 program.  As the letter noted, this was not a statement of the quality or worthiness of those projects; it was simply a matter of timing.   

"Following the completion of the Independent Consultants Review by Mr. Herb Allison [See WIMS 2/13/12], the Department has worked to develop a process for considering pending applications for the §1703 funding.  Today, the Department is sending a letter to project sponsors with pending applications that could not be considered for the Recovery Act-funded §1705 program due to eligibility requirements or time constraints around the September 30, 2011 deadline for that program.  These projects are still being given the opportunity to be considered for a loan guarantee under the §1703 program. 

"The exact number of projects and the total dollar value of the loan guarantees in this §1703 pipeline will depend on the government's assessment of the risk level of the projects selected.  The Department expects to begin issuing conditional commitments over the next several months after completing a rigorous internal and external review of each application.  This evaluation will build on the extensive work that had already begun last year prior to the applications being put on hold. 

"Consistent with the findings and recommendations of the Allison review, projects selected will be subject to a robust monitoring effort to ensure that taxpayers' investments are protected.  It is important to note that the Allison review found that the Department's overall loan portfolio was strong and that expected losses would likely be less than the loan loss reserves Congress set aside for the §1705 loan program and the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program. 

"I would also like to take this opportunity to update the Committee on the significant progress being made around the country on projects funded by the Department's loan programs.

"From solar energy to wind to biofuels and more, the global market for clean energy technologies reached $260 billion last year and is growing rapidly.  Recognizing the enormous economic opportunities ahead, countries like China, Germany, and others around the world have established programs to provide government-backed financing for innovative technologies and companies.  Such support is crucial because private lenders are often unwilling or unable to absorb the risks associated with financing truly innovative or advanced technology projects at scale until such projects have been proven in the marketplace.

"By any measure, the Energy Department's loan programs have helped the United States keep pace in the fierce global race for clean energy technologies.  Over the past three years, the loan programs have invested in some of the world's biggest, most innovative, and most ambitious clean energy projects to date, supporting a balanced portfolio of American clean energy projects that are creating tens of thousands of jobs nationwide and are expected to provide power to nearly three million U.S. households. 

"For example, NRG Solar's Agua Caliente project in Yuma County, Arizona will be the world's largest solar photovoltaic installation when it is finished later this year.  The project is more than 70 percent complete with nearly three million solar panels already installed that span more than 2,300 acres – and the project has started delivering clean, renewable energy to the power grid.  For the 600 workers on the site today, the project provides steady income, marketable skills, and the opportunity to contribute in shaping the nation's energy economy. 

"In wind energy too, the Energy Department is supporting the world's largest project.  The Caithness Shepherds Flat wind farm in eastern Oregon features 338 turbines spread across two counties.  With more than half of the turbines already installed, the project is operating and contributing clean wind power to the grid.  It is supporting thousands of jobs beyond the 1,000 construction workers on site.  The project will utilize 15 suppliers in nine states to fulfill orders for the 845 megawatt wind farm, including General Electric assembly facilities in Pensacola, Florida and Tehachapi, California.  Logistics companies, indirect suppliers, and site contractors are also playing an important role in the project.  

"Several other completed projects are generating clean power and are repaying their loans.  First Wind's Kahuku Wind project in Oahu, Hawaii, for example, has been operating since March of last year, providing clean, renewable power to 6,000 homes.  The economic benefits of the project are substantial – with wind turbines assembled in Iowa, an advanced energy storage system supplied by a Texas company, and a supply chain that extended to more than 100 businesses in 20 states.

"Solar generation projects like California Valley Solar Ranch, Antelope Valley Solar Ranch, and Abengoa Solana are reinvigorating the local construction industry and contributing to a boom for American solar companies.  New manufacturing facilities are opening across the country to support America's renewable energy sector.  In fact, according to the U.S. Solar Energy Industry Association, in 2010 and 2011, 41 new U.S. solar manufacturing facilities began operations across America, including in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.  These facilities have fostered new steel manufacturing facilities, glass producers, and tool dye manufacturing facilities for solar electronics and tracking equipment.

"In part because of these cutting edge projects and the private sector investment enabled through the loan program, the United States has nearly doubled renewable energy generation since 2008, and last year U.S. solar installations grew by nearly 110 percent.

"But given how intense the global competition is -- China offered $30 billion in government-backed financing to solar companies in 2010 alone -- we cannot afford to stop moving forward. Our historic investment in clean energy is paying off, and it will come back to us many times over -- in jobs, in clean energy for our communities, and in leadership in the technologies of the 21st century."

    Access the complete letter which includes links to many of the referenced projects and letters (click here). [#Energy/Renewable]

32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals