Thursday, January 31, 2013

U.S. Wind Energy Industry Completes Strongest Year Ever

Jan 30: The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced that the U.S. wind energy industry had its strongest year ever in 2012, installing a record 13,124 megawatts (MW) of electric generating capacity, leveraging $25 billion in private investment,and achieving over 60,000 MW of cumulative wind capacity. The milestone of 60,000 MW (60 gigawatts) was reached just five months after AWEA announced last August that the U.S. industry had 50,000 MW installed. AWEA said, "Today's 60,007 MW is enough clean, affordable, American wind power to power the equivalent of almost 15 million homes, or the number in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio combined."

    AWEA indicated that in this historic year of achievement, wind energy for the first time became the number one source of new U.S. electric generating capacity, providing some 42 percent of all new generating capacity; the final tally will be released in April in AWEA's annual report. In fact, 2012 was a strong year for all renewables, as together they accounted for over 55 percent of all new U.S. generating capacity. Resulting from 190 projects across 32 states plus Puerto Rico, the new record for annual installations of over 13,000 MW by the U.S. industry far surpasses the previous record of 10,000 MW installed in 2010.

    AWEA Interim CEO Rob Gramlich said, "It is a real testament to American innovation and hard work that for the first time ever a renewable energy source was number one in new capacity. We are thrilled to mark this major milestone in the nation's progress toward a cleaner energy system." Currently installed wind power will avoid 95.9 million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to 1.8% of the entire country's carbon emissions.

    In last year's fourth quarter alone, 8,380 MW were installed, making it the strongest quarter in U.S. wind power history. This was due in large part to impending expiration of the successful Federal Production Tax Credit (PTC). It was slated to end on December 31, 2012, but was extended by Congress on January 1, 2013, as part of the "fiscal cliff package," the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

    Gramlich added, "What is just as striking as the new records is the expansion of new customers. A total of 66 utilities bought or owned wind power in 2012, up from 42 in 2011. We are also seeing growth in new customers in the industrial and commercial sectors purchasing or owning wind energy directly." New wind power purchasers last year included at least 18 industrial buyers, 11 schools and universities, and eight towns or cities, showing a significant trend toward nontraditional power purchasers from the industrial sector. Manufacturers of everything from plastics to light bulbs, semiconductors, and badges, farms, and medical centers are now directly purchasing wind power. Gramlich said, "The fact that wind power grew by another 28 percent in 2012 alone and poured $25 billion of private investment into the U.S. last year demonstrates wind's ability to scale up, and continue to serve as a leading source of energy in America."

    AWEA indicates that the top 10 states for new capacity installations in 2012 include: 1. Texas (1,826 MW); 2. California (1,656 MW); 3. Kansas (1,440 MW); 4. Oklahoma (1,127 MW); 5. Illinois (823 MW); 6. Iowa (814 MW); 7. Oregon (640 MW); 8. Michigan (611 MW); 9. Pennsylvania (550 MW); and,10. Colorado (496 MW).

    States with exciting news in wind project development in 2012 include California, Michigan, and Illinois. The Golden State regained its position as the second largest state in installed wind capacity, surpassing Iowa, which had been number two since 2008. California achieved the 5,000-MW milestone in wind capacity, following Texas, and alongside Iowa.

    Illinois had its most successful year ever. Ranking number five in new capacity, Illinois saw the installation of over 800 MW, with half that output sold into the Tennessee Valley Authority market. As one of America's wind power hubs, Illinois is home to wind power innovation and this year, it installed the first concrete wind tower, which the manufacturer says can support taller turbines to access better winds. Iowa soon followed suit.

    While a strong renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is successfully growing wind power in California, such policies are also growing wind projects in upper Midwest states like Michigan. Over 610 MW across 9 projects were built in the Wolverine State, which is close to achieving the 1,000-MW mark within the first few years of its RPS program, while continuing to be a leader in wind manufacturing jobs.

    AWEA indicated that the America's wind energy industry workers had been living under threat of the PTC's expiration for over a year and layoffs had already begun, as companies idled factories because of a lack of orders for 2013. Uncertain Federal policies have caused a "boom-bust" cycle in U.S. wind energy development for over a decade. Half the American jobs in wind energy -- 37,000 out of 75,000 -- and hundreds of U.S. factories in the supply chain would have been at stake had the PTC been allowed to expire, according to a study by Navigant Consulting. Gramlich said, "America's wind energy industry is back on track. With a banner year to celebrate, we look forward to showing how wind power can continue to strengthen America's energy future, and create jobs and business for our families and communities."
    The global wind energy industry will gather in Chicago, May 5-8, 2013, for the world's largest annual wind power event, WINDPOWER 2013. Thousands of workers and leaders from all sectors will attend to show their wares, attend conference sessions, and seek further solutions for success.
    Access a release from AWEA (click here). Access the WINDPOWER 2013 website for complete details (click here). Access the AWEA website for more information (click here). [#Energy/Wind, #MIEnergy/Wind]
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

BP Pleads Guilty To 14 Criminal Counts; Will Pay Record $4 Billion

Jan 29: Attorney General Eric Holder announced that BP Exploration and Production Inc. pleaded guilty on January 29, to 14 criminal counts for its illegal conduct leading to and after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and was sentenced to pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties, the largest criminal resolution in U.S. history [See WIMS 11/27/12]. He said, "Today's guilty plea and sentencing represent a significant step forward in the Justice Department's ongoing efforts to seek justice on behalf of those affected by one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. I'm pleased to note that more than half of this landmark resolution -- which totals $4 billion in penalties and fines, and represents the single largest criminal resolution ever -- will help to provide direct support to Gulf Coast residents as communities throughout the region continue to recover and rebuild."

    Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division said, "The Deepwater Horizon explosion was a national tragedy that resulted in the senseless deaths of 11 people and immense environmental damage. Through the tenacious work of the Task Force, BP has received just punishment for its crimes leading up to and following the explosion.  The Justice Department will keep a watchful eye on BP's compliance with the plea agreement's terms, including the requirements of full cooperation with the department's ongoing criminal investigation, implementation of enhanced safety protocols and adherence to the recommendations of two newly installed monitors.  Should BP fail to comply, we will act swiftly and firmly."

    BP's guilty plea was accepted, and the sentence was imposed, by U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance of the Eastern District of Louisiana. During the guilty plea and sentencing proceeding, Judge Vance found, among other things, that the consequential fines imposed under the plea agreement far exceed any imposed in U.S. history, and are structured so that BP will feel the full brunt of the penalties. She also noted that the agreement provides just punishment and significant deterrence, requiring detailed drilling safeguards, monitors and other stringent, special conditions of probation so that BP's future conduct will be closely watched.  

    BP pleaded guilty to each count charged in an information filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, including 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of Congress and violations of the Clean Water and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts. In its guilty plea, BP admitted that, on April 20, 2010, the two highest-ranking BP supervisors onboard the Deepwater Horizon, known as BP's "Well Site Leaders" or "company men," negligently caused the deaths of 11 men and the resulting oil spill. The company also admitted that on that evening, the two well site leaders observed clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well, but chose not to take obvious and appropriate steps to prevent the blowout. Additionally, BP admitted that as a result of the Well Site Leaders' conduct, control of the Macondo well was lost, resulting in catastrophe. 

    BP also admitted during its guilty plea that the company, through a senior executive, obstructed an inquiry by the U.S. Congress into the amount of oil being discharged into the Gulf while the spill was ongoing. BP also admitted that the senior executive withheld documents, provided false and misleading information in response to the U.S. House of Representatives' request for flow-rate information, manipulated internal estimates to understate the amount of oil flowing from the well and withheld data that contradicted BP's public estimate of 5,000 barrels of oil per day. At the same time that the senior executive was preparing his manipulated estimates, BP admitted, the company's internal engineering response teams were using sophisticated methods that generated significantly higher estimates.  The Flow Rate Technical Group, consisting of government and independent scientists, later concluded that more than 60,000 barrels per day were leaking into the Gulf during the relevant time, contrary to BP's representations to Congress.

    According to the sentence imposed by Judge Vance pursuant to the plea agreement, more than $2 billion dollars will directly benefit the Gulf region. By order of the court, approximately $2.4 billion of the $4.0 billion criminal recovery is dedicated to acquiring, restoring, preserving and conserving – in consultation with appropriate state and other resource managers – the marine and coastal environments, ecosystems and bird and wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Mexico and bordering states harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  This portion of the criminal recovery is also to be directed to significant barrier island restoration and/or river diversion off the coast of Louisiana to further benefit and improve coastal wetlands affected by the oil spill. An additional $350 million will be used to fund improved oil spill prevention and response efforts in the Gulf through research, development, education and training.

    BP was also sentenced to five years of probation -- the maximum term of probation permitted under law. The company is also required, according to the order entered by the court pursuant to the plea agreement, to retain a process safety and risk management monitor and an independent auditor, who will oversee BP's process safety, risk management and drilling equipment maintenance with respect to deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is also required to retain an ethics monitor to improve its code of conduct to ensure BP's future candor with the U.S. government.
    At the hearing, Luke Keller, a Vice President of BP America Inc., addressed the Court, the families of the deceased, and other victims of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and reiterated the company's deep regret and apology for its role in the Deepwater Horizon accident. He said, "We -- and by that I mean the men and the women of the management of BP, its Board of Directors, and its many employees -- are deeply sorry for the tragic loss of the 11 men who died and the others who were injured that day. Our guilty plea makes clear, BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy, and we apologize – BP apologizes – to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones. BP is also sorry for the harm to the environment that resulted from the spill, and we apologize to the individuals and communities who were injured." 

    In a related matter, U.S. District Court Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has scheduled a hearing in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, Louisiana, for February 14, 2013 at 10:00 AM to consider the guilty plea agreement entered into by Transocean Deepwater Inc. (Transocean), pursuant to which Transocean would plead guilty to a one-count information charging Transocean with violation of the Clean Water and Migratory Bird Act and pay criminal fines and other penalties totaling $400 million. Any written submission by a victim must be received by the Court by February 1, 2013. 

    Access a release from the Attorney General (click here). Access a copy of the Court's Order, which provides contact information for victims, as well as the guilty plea agreement and charging document (click here).Access more information on the BP case (click here). Access a lengthy release from BP (click here). Access the Transocean Court's Order, which provides contact information for victims, as well as the guilty plea agreement and charging document (click here). [#Energy/OilSpill]

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Senate Narrowly Approves $50+ Billion Superstorm Sandy Relief

Jan 28: With 60 votes required, the U.S. Senate narrowly approved H.R.152, the Hurricane Sandy Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, providing $50-plus billion for disaster relief assistance to assist people and governments on the East Coast in recovering from Superstorm Sandy which made landfall nearly three months ago. The Senate vote was 62 to 36 with two note voting. The vast majority of Senate Republicans (36) voted against the measure. The measure, which was also hotly debated in the House, passed that body on January 15 with a vote of 241-180, and is now expected to be quickly signed by the President. 
    The bill provides in part: $16 billion in Community Development Block Grants; $5.3 billion Army Corps of Engineers beach and flood control projects; $13 billion total for transportation programs; $600 million for Clean Water Infrastructure; 800 million for hospitals, health centers, and educational services; and $2 million for Toxic Superfund Sites.
    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy released a joint statement regarding the Senate's passage saying, "Our genuine thanks and gratitude goes out to the U.S. Senate for its thoughtful consideration and passage of the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief package. Despite the difficult path in getting to this moment, the Senate membership clearly recognized early on the urgency and necessity of approving the full aid package and its importance in rebuilding our battered infrastructure and getting our millions of affected residents back on their feet as quickly as possible. To all Americans, we are grateful for their willingness to come to our aid as we take on the monumental task of rebuilding and we pledge to do the same should our fellow citizens find themselves facing unexpected and harsh devastation. We also make special note of the tenacious efforts of our respective Congressional delegations in steering the Sandy aid package through their respective houses and bringing this aid home to their people."
        U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) issued a release on the bill indicating that the Senate also "soundly defeated a Republican amendment that would have cut all federal discretionary programs to pay for the emergency relief. " Sen. Menendez said in an impassioned floor speech before the votes urging passage, "Ninety-one days we have been languishing waiting for our government to respond to critical issues, life and death situations of fellow Americans….in which people have not been able to get their lives back on track. Another number, 118 days. That's all we have left until Memorial Day and the beginning of a critically important season for New Jersey's economy -- a $37 billion tourism industry that cannot get back on its feet unless the federal government says, 'Here's how we're going to help businesses reopen. Here's how we're going to help people get back into their homes. That is not only important to the state's economy but to the national economy. We need to act today. The time has passed."  
   Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said, "Today's action in the Senate is a breakthrough for our region and victims of Superstorm Sandy who will at long last get the federal resources they need to recover and rebuild. While this package is overdue because of needless delay from House Republican leadership, we have finally come together and made a national commitment to provide families, businesses and communities with aid to come back even stronger.  New Jersey was devastated by this terrible storm and this legislation will help rebuild homes, businesses, and public infrastructure while strengthening our shore and transportation network for future extreme weather events." Sen. Lautenberg notes that Congress previously passed and the President signed into law a $9.7 billion flood insurance measure that was originally part of the bill the Senate passed in December, bringing the Sandy Federal aid total to more than $60 billion.
    Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), issued a statement saying, "This bill will help tens of thousands of Americans recover from Hurricane Sandy, and it will allow communities to start working to prevent damage from future storms, which sadly are sure to come until we reduce the threat of climate change. Unfortunately, after delaying action, House Republicans included amendments to this bill that impede the protection of our oceans and lands. Given the pressing needs of Sandy's victims, the Senate needed to send this relief package to the President right now. But in the future, the Senate should undo the legislative hostage-taking that the House Republicans perpetrated, in what should have been a clean bill, to alleviate suffering, restore our coasts, and protect communities."
    Access the joint statement from the Governors (click here). Access a release from Sen. Menendez (click here). Access a release from Sen. Lautenberg with a summary of what the bill includes (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access legislative details and links to roll call votes for H.R.152 (click here). [#Climate]
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Monday, January 28, 2013

Coastal Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, & Vulnerabilities

Jan 28: According to a new technical report, the effects of climate change will continue to threaten the health and vitality of U.S. coastal communities' social, economic and natural systems. The report, Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities: a technical input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment, authored by leading scientists and experts, emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change.

    The recently released report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Margaret Davidson of NOAA's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and co-lead author of the report said, "Sandy showed us that coastal states and communities need effective strategies, tools and resources to conserve, protect, and restore coastal habitats and economies at risk from current environmental stresses and a changing climate. Easing the existing pressures on coastal environments to improve their resiliency is an essential method of coping with the adverse effects of climate change."

    A key finding in the report is that all U.S. coasts are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise, erosion, storms and flooding, especially in the more populated low-lying parts of the U.S. coast along the Gulf of Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, northern Alaska, Hawaii, and island territories. Another finding indicated the financial risks associated with both private and public hazard insurance are expected to increase dramatically. Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and co-lead author of the report said, "An increase in the intensity of extreme weather events such as storms like Sandy and Katrina, coupled with sea-level rise and the effects of increased human development along the coasts, could affect the sustainability of many existing coastal communities and natural resources."

    The authors also emphasized that storm surge flooding and sea-level rise pose significant threats to public and private infrastructure that provides energy, sewage treatment, clean water and transportation of people and goods. These factors increase threats to public health, safety, and employment in the coastal zone. The report's authors noted that the population of the coastal watershed counties of the U.S. and territories, including the Great Lakes, makes up more than 50 percent of the nation's population and contributed more than $8.3 trillion to the 2011 U.S. economy but depend on healthy coastal landforms, water resources, estuaries and other natural resources to sustain them. Climate changes, combined with human development activities, reduce the ability of coasts to provide numerous benefits, including food, clean water, jobs, recreation and protection of communities against storms.

    Seventy-nine Federal, academic and other scientists, including the lead authors from the NOAA and USGS, authored the report which is being used as a technical input to the third National Climate Assessment -- an interagency report produced for Congress once every four years to summarize the science and impacts of climate change on the United States [See WIMS 1/11/13]. Other key findings of the report include:

  • Expected public health impacts include a decline in seafood quality, shifts in disease patterns and increases in rates of heat-related morbidity.
  • Changes in the location and the time of year when storms form can lead to large changes in where storms land and the impacts of storms. Any sea-level rise is virtually certain to exacerbate storm-surge and flooding related hazards.
  • Because of changes in the hydrological cycle due to warming, precipitation events (rain, snow) will likely be heavier. Combined with sea-level rise and storm surge, this will increase flooding severity in some coastal areas, particularly in the Northeast.
  • Temperature is primarily driving environmental change in the Alaskan coastal zone. Sea ice and permafrost make northern regions particularly susceptible to temperature change. For example, an increase of two degrees Celsius during the summer could basically transform much of Alaska from frozen to unfrozen, with extensive implications.
  • As the physical environment changes, the range of a particular ecosystem will expand, contract or migrate in response. The combined influence of many stresses can cause unexpected ecological changes if species, populations or ecosystems are pushed beyond a tipping point.
  • Although adaptation planning activities in the coastal zone are increasing, they generally occur in an ad-hoc manner and are slow to be implemented. Efficiency of adaptation can be improved through more accurate and timely scientific information, tools, and resources, and by integrating adaptation plans into overall land use planning as well as ocean and coastal management.
  • An integrated scientific program will reduce uncertainty about the best ways coastal communities can to respond to sea-level rise and other kinds of coastal change. This, in turn, will allow communities to better assess their vulnerability and to identify and implement appropriate adaptation and preparedness options.

    Access a release from USGS (click here). Access the complete 230-page report (click here). [#Climate, #Land, #Water]


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Friday, January 25, 2013

D.C. Circuit Denies Full Panel Review Of Cross State Air Pollution Rule

Jan 24: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, Case No. 11-1302, EME Homer City Generation, L.P v. U.S. EPA, consolidate with 44 additional cases. In this high-profile case, on August 21, 2012, the Appeals Court, in a split 2-1 decision, dealing with U.S. EPA's controversial Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), vacated the Transport Rule and the Transport Rule FIPs and remand this proceeding to EPA. EPA and others requested an en banc (full panel) rehearing of the case and the Appeals Court denied the request. Judge Kavanaugh wrote the opinion of the court when the three-judge panel ruled in August, joined by Judge Griffith. The opinion expressly left in place the existing Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) pending EPA's further action.
    In its August ruling the majority ruled in part, ". . .this Court has affirmed numerous EPA clean air decisions in recent years when those agency decisions met relevant statutory requirements and complied with statutory constraints. . . In this case, however, we conclude that EPA has transgressed statutory boundaries. Congress could well decide to alter the statute to permit or require EPA's preferred approach to the good neighbor issue. Unless and until Congress does so, we must apply and enforce the statute as it's now written. Our decision today should not be interpreted as a comment on the wisdom or policy merits of EPA's Transport Rule. It is not our job to set environmental policy. Our limited but important role is to independently ensure that the agency stays within the boundaries Congress has set. EPA did not do so here."
    The Transport Rule defined emissions reduction responsibilities for 28 upwind States based on those States' contributions to downwind States' air quality problems.The Transport Rule targets two pollutants -- sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). In a release on the decision, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said that CSAPR was an "historic pollution reduction measure that would have protected air quality for 240 million Americans across the Eastern United States and saved up to 34,000 lives each year. EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton said, "We urge EPA, states and cities alike to take corrective action and secure healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans. The states and cities afflicted by power plant pollution can and should petition EPA under the nation's clean air laws to safeguard the health of their citizens."   

    Three petitions were filed asking the full court for a rehearing. EDF -- joined by the American Lung Association, Clean Air Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club -- filed one of the petitions in support of the Cross-State Rule. EPA also filed a petition, as did a coalition of 15 states and cities (North Carolina, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Baltimore, Bridgeport, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.).

    EDF indicates that CSAPR would have reduced the sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants across 28 eastern states. Those emissions, and the resulting particulate pollution and ozone -- more commonly known as soot and smog -- drift across the borders of those states and contribute to dangerous, sometimes lethal, levels of pollution in downwind states. CSAPR would have reduced power plant sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and oxides of nitrogen by 54 percent from 2005 levels. 

    EPA issued the Cross-State Air Pollution 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. While no one is immune to these impacts, children and the elderly in downwind states are especially vulnerable. EPA estimated the Cross-State Rule would have: Saved up to 34,000 lives each year; Prevented 15,000 heart attacks each year; Prevented 400,000 asthma attacks each year; and Provided up to $280 billion in health benefits for America each year .

    On November 19, 2012, EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy issued a Memorandum regarding the "Next Steps for Pending Redesignation Requests and State Implementation Plan Actions Affected by the Recent Court Decision Vacating the 2011 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule." The Memo explains that while the request for en banc review is pending CAIR remains in effect and says, "In the meantime, we have work to do. Statutory deadlines and other circumstances will require us to take various actions during this period and it is important that we all understand how best to take into account the Court's decision." That Memo now takes on new importance and will apparently guide EPA on this issue until new guidance or new rules are proposed (See link below).

    The coalition of states -- led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman -- urged the court to uphold the Federal Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in earlier arguments before the D.C. Circuit. Schneiderman said back in April 2012, "For too long, New York and other states have been harmed by upwind smokestack pollution. It is critical that strong rules protecting the air we breathe are both upheld and enforced. The transport of this kind of air pollution into our state makes it exceedingly difficult for New York to meet federal air quality standards intended to protect public health, resulting in undue hardship for people suffering from asthma and other health conditions. My office stands ready and willing to fight for our ability to maintain healthy air with the reasonable assurance that our efforts won't be undercut by out-of-state polluters." 

    Access the August 21, 2012 Appeals Court complete 104-page opinion and dissent (click here, dissent begins on pp. 61). Access a lengthy release from EDF with links to related information (click here). Access the EPA November 19, 2012 Memo (click here). Access EPA's petition for rehearing en banc (click here). Access EPA's CSAPR website for background and further details (click here). Access a release from the NY attorney general (click here). [#Air, #MIAir, #CADC]


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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Keystone XL Decision Will Test President's Climate Change Pledge

Jan 23: Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Hoeven (R-ND), Max Baucus (D-MT.) and a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline following Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman's approval of the route through Nebraska Tuesday [See WIMS 1/22/13]. In one day's time, the letter gained 53 signatures, a majority of the U.S. Senate. Senators in addition to Murkowski, Hoeven and Baucus who attended the news conference included, Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), David Vitter (R-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). The full text of the letter reads as follows:

Dear Mr. President:

"Nebraska recently approved a new Keystone XL Pipeline route. Four and a half years after TransCanada first applied for a Presidential Permit, and a year since you denied their original request, the project still awaits your approval. Nebraska has now addressed the outstanding concerns you raised when you denied the permit, and we therefore urge you to finish expeditiously the review process and approve the pipeline. Specifically, the new pipeline route in Nebraska avoids the Sand Hills, which you cited as a concern in your denial. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality determined the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact and would generate significant economic benefits in the state of Nebraska. This is on top of the thousands of good-paying union jobs and millions of dollars in economic development for our country as a whole, none of which cost any taxpayer money. The pipeline is also a major step toward American energy security. Canada plans to develop this oil resource and the only question is whether we receive the oil from our friend and ally or whether Canada is forced to look for new partners in Asia because we turned them away.

"On March 22, 2012, you directed federal agencies to accelerate approval of vital energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline.  We strongly urge you to direct the State Department to accelerate the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and quickly complete the National Interest Determination. 

"This should be able to be done quickly since your administration has previously made a National Interest Determination on the same key factors relevant to Keystone XL.  In 2009, with respect to the Alberta Clipper Pipeline, the State Department 'found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of strategic interests of the United States. These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States' worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer. Canada is a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the security of this energy supply.'

"The factors supporting the National Interest Determination in 2009 are just as relevant today.  Some constituencies have called on you to deny the pipeline and the jobs and energy security associated with it.  Because the pipeline has gone through the most exhaustive environmental scrutiny of any pipeline in the history of this country, and you already determined that oil from Canada is in the national interest, there is no reason to deny or further delay this long-studied project.  

"We ask you not to move the goalposts as opponents of this project have pressed you to do. We urge you to choose jobs, economic development and American energy security.  It is vital for the country that you promptly finalize the SEIS and the National Interest Determination and approve the pipeline.     "The State Department has said that it would issue the final SEIS before the end of the first quarter of 2013.  After four and a half years of study, we urge you to stick to your deadlines.  The American people need a timely decision on the Presidential Permit.

"Thank you for your consideration."

    Last November, Baucus and Hoeven organized a bipartisan letter signed by 18 senators, nine Republicans and nine Democrats, calling on the president to approve the Keystone XL project once Nebraska's concerns were addressed. They also asked to meet with the president to discuss the project, but to date they are still awaiting a response from the White House.

    On the House side, Energy and Commerce Committee Republican leaders pledged continued action in support of the Keystone XL pipeline following Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman's approval of the proposed reroute of the pipeline through the Cornhusker state. Now that the Nebraska process is complete, the next step is for the president to approve the Presidential Permit. Full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Lee Terry (R-NE) issued a statement following the governor's announcement saying:

    "Today marks another milestone on the long and tumultuous road toward the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Nebraska has now given its stamp of approval of the landmark infrastructure project, which should alleviate the president's concerns over the proposed route. The pipeline route has been thoroughly studied and found to be environmentally sound. Keystone XL will help create thousands of American jobs and put us on a path toward North American energy independence. This pipeline is clearly in our national interest and it is critical for our economy and our national security that it be approved immediately. We will continue to fight tooth and nail for this pipeline and the jobs it will create and will pursue additional legislation to ensure it is approved and built to completion."

    Additionally, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued a release calling on President Obama to immediately approve the project. He said, "Nebraska's approval of a new Keystone XL pipeline route means there is no bureaucratic excuse, hurdle, or catch President Obama can use to delay this project any further. He and he alone stands in the way of tens of thousands of new jobs and energy security. Every state along the proposed route supports this project, as does a bipartisan coalition in Congress and a majority of Americans. I recognize all the political pressure the president faces, but with our energy security at stake and many jobs in limbo, he should find a way to say yes."

    The Nebraska approval, combined with the growing Congressional political pressure is setting the stage for a highly controversial decision by the President and his Administration -- particularly in light of the President's Inaugural commitment to address the issue of climate change [See WIMS 1/22/13].

    On February 17, President's Day weekend,, the Sierra Club and the Hip-Hop Caucus are organizing a demonstration at The National Mall, Washington, DC to protest the further development of the Keystone XL pipeline [See WIMS 1/15/13]. In anticipation of the demonstration, the Sierra Club Board of Directors has approved the one-time use of civil disobedience for the first time in the organization's 120-year history.

    On January 7, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and nearly 70 other national and regional organizations released a letter thanking President Obama for repeatedly raising the threat of climate change and highlighted specific actions he can take after his second inauguration to expand clean energy and curb pollution that is altering our climate. Among the specific actions recommended by the group to address climate change concerns they said, "the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest because it would unlock vast amounts of additional carbon that we can't afford to burn, extend our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, endanger health and safety, and put critical water resources at risk." [See WIMS 1/8/13].

    On January 17, a release from NRDC indicated that scientists and advocates had unveiled new research from Oil Change International showing that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would damage the climate much more than previously thought, by dramatically expanding tar sands production and because it will lead to increased combustion of a particularly dirty form of oil -- petroleum coke -- known as petcoke [See WIMS 1/17/13]. They said, "The petcoke produced from the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would fuel 5 coal plants and produce 16.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, thus emitting 13% more carbon dioxide than the U.S. State Department has previously considered."

    According to TransCanada, the Keystone XL project developer, the proposed oil pipeline will transport oil from Hardisty, Alberta and Baker, Montana before reaching delivery terminals in Steele City, Nebraska. Keystone XL is estimated to cost about US$5.3 billion to build and will support the creation of 9,000 jobs on the American portion of the pipeline and about 2,200 on the Canadian side. The projected in-service date for Keystone XL is late 2014 or early 2015, subject to approval of the company's Presidential Permit application.

    Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman pointed out in a letter to the President that, "Construction of Keystone XL will result in $418.1 million in economic benefits and support up to 4,560 new or existing jobs in Nebraska. The project will generate $16.5 million in taxes from pipeline construction materials and is expected to yield up to $13 million in local property tax revenues in its first full year of valuation. Normal operation of the pipeline is expected to have no effect on ground or surface water quality or use along the pipeline route in Nebraska. In the unlikely event of a spill from the pipeline, impacts on water resources would be localized and would not impact the Ogallala Aquifer as a whole."

    Access a release from Sen. Murkowski and the letter (click here). Access a release from Sen. Hoeven including the letter and a list of signers (click here). Access the statement from House E&C Republicans (click here). Access a release from Speaker Boehner (click here). Access the release from Sierra Club and link to further details (click here). Access a release from NRDC and link to the complete letter with a list of signers and related NRDC blog postings (click here). Access a lengthy release from NRDC with links to related information (click here). Access the Oil Change International report (click here). Access an announcement from the Nebraska Governor and link to the letter to President Obama (click here). Access a release from TransCanada and link to the Presidential permit application and related information (click here). Access numerous WIMS blog postings on KXL (click here). [#Energy/KXL, #Energy/Pipeline, #Climate]


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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

International Governments Agree On Minamata Convention On Mercury

Jan 19: International effort to address mercury received a significant boost with governments agreeing to a global, legally-binding treaty to prevent emissions and releases [See WIMS 1/10/13]. Over 750 participants attended the session, representing 137 governments, as well as 57 non-governmental and 14 intergovernmental organizations.
    The Minamata Convention on Mercury-named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th Century-provides controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted including medical equipment such as thermometers and energy-saving light bulbs to the mining, cement and coal-fired power sectors. 
    The treaty, which has been four years in negotiation and which will be open for signature at a special meeting in Japan in October, also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of waste mercury. Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and better training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects will also form part of the new agreement.
    Mercury and its various compounds have a range of serious health impacts including brain and neurological damage especially among the young. Others include kidney damage and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other well documented problems.
    Initial funding to fast track action until the new treaty comes into force in the expected three to five years' time has been pledged by Japan, Norway and Switzerland. Support for developing countries is also expected from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and a programme once the convention is operational.
    Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which convened the negotiations among over 140 member states in Geneva, said at the close of the session, "After complex and often all night sessions here in Geneva, nations have today laid the foundations for a global response to a pollutant whose notoriety has been recognized for well over a century. Everyone in the world stands to benefit from the decisions taken this week in Geneva -- in particular the workers and families of small-scale gold miners, the peoples of the Arctic and this generation of mothers and babies and the generations to come. I look forward to swift ratification of the Minamata Convention so that it comes into force as soon as possible."
    Fernando Lugris, the Uruguayan chair of the negotiations said, "Today in the early hours of 19 January 2013 we have closed a chapter on a journey that has taken four years of often intense but ultimately successful negotiations and opened a new chapter towards a sustainable future. This has been done in the name of vulnerable populations everywhere and represents an opportunity for a healthier and more sustainable century for all peoples." David Lennett from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) representing the Zero Mercury Working Group a global coalition of environmental NGOs said, "This treaty will not bring immediate reductions of mercury emissions. It will need to be improved and strengthened, to make all fish safe to eat. Still, the treaty will phase out mercury in many products and we welcome it as a starting point."
The decision to launch negotiations was taken by environment ministers at the 2009 session of the UNEP Governing Council and the final and fifth negotiation took place this week in Geneva. Governments have agreed on a range of mercury containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020 including: batteries, except for 'button cell' batteries used in implantable medical devices; switches and relays; certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs); mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps; soaps and cosmetics; and certain kinds of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices.

    Governments approved exceptions for some large measuring devices where currently there are no mercury-free alternatives including: Vaccines where mercury is used as a preservative have been excluded from the treaty as have products used in religious or traditional activities; and delegates agreed to a phase-down of the use of dental fillings using mercury amalgam.

    The booming price of gold in recent years has triggered a significant growth in small-scale mining where mercury is used to separate gold from the ore-bearing rock. Emissions and releases from such artisanal and small-scale operations and from coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of mercury pollution world-wide. Workers and their families involved in small-scale gold mining are exposed to mercury pollution in several ways including through inhalation during the smelting. Mercury is also being released into river systems from these small-scale operations where it can contaminate fish, the food chain and people downstream.

    Governments agreed that the treaty will require countries to draw up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners. Nations with artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations will draw up national plans within three years of the treaty entering into force to reduce and if possible eliminate the use of mercury in such operations; and, public awareness campaigns and support for mercury-free alternatives will also be part of the plans.

    The new treaty will also control mercury emissions and releases from various large industrial facilities ranging from coal-fired power stations and industrial boilers to certain kinds of smelters handling for example zinc and gold. Waste incineration and cement clinker facilities are also on the list. Nations agreed to install the Best Available Technologies on new power plants and facilities with plans to be drawn up to bring emissions down from existing ones. The negotiations were initially looking to set thresholds on the size of plants or level of emissions to be controlled. But it was decided this week to defer this until the first meeting of the treaty after it comes into force.

    Access a release from UNEP (click here). Access background to the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury (INC5) (click here). Access a release on the GEF role to fund implementation of a new international treaty (click here). Access opening remarks of the U.S. Department of State at the INC5 meeting (click here). Access a complete 21-page summary of the INC5 meeting from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) (click here). Access the 42-page, latest draft of the Global Mercury Assessment 2013 (click here). Access the 44-page Mercury: Time to Act report (click here). [#Toxics]


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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

President Highlights Climate Change & Energy In Inaugural Address

Jan 21: President Obama emphasized the need to address climate change and to invest in renewable energy in his second Inaugural Address saying:
"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  (Applause.)  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.  
"The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise.  That's how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."
    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, issued a brief statement saying, "The way the President spoke about climate change in his remarks today was exactly right. Addressing the threat of climate change is about protecting the future for our children and future generations, our most sacred obligation."
    Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, released a statement saying, "The Sierra Club is heartened by President Obama's remarks today in his second inauguration and his renewed vow to respond to the threat of climate disruption. Indeed, in America, our possibilities are limitless, and the Sierra Club's 2.1 million members and supporters urge the president to cement our nation's position as the global clean energy leader by going all in on sustainable energy, holding polluters accountable, and rejecting the dangerous tar sands pipeline. We will work tirelessly to ensure the transition to safe, clean energy sources to fight the most pressing challenge of our time."
    Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) commented saying, "The President said it exactly right: 'We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.' We at EDF share the sense of urgency President Obama described. We are fully focused on working with him and many others to achieve climate security and American clean energy innovation." 
    Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), issued a statement saying, "This is a call to action against the climate chaos that is sweeping our nation and threatening our future. Now it's time to act. Power plants are our single largest source of carbon pollution. We must cut that pollution. We must do it now, for the sake of our country, our children and the future we share."
    Access the complete Inaugural Address (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access the statement from Sierra Club (click here). Access the statement from EDF (click here). Access the statement from NRDC with links to related information (click here). [Climate, #Energy/Renewable]
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Friday, January 18, 2013

EPA Announces Voluntary Clean Air "PM Advance" Program

Jan 17: U.S. EPA announced a new voluntary clean air program, 'PM Advance,' to help communities continue to meet soot pollution standards, improve air quality and protect public health. PM Advance focuses on working with communities to develop strategies for reducing harmful fine particle emissions.

    Soot, also known as fine particle pollution (PM2.5
), can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. On December 14, 2012, EPA updated the national air quality standards for PM2.5
by revising the annual standard to 12 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) [See WIMS 12/14/12]. Updated last in 1997, the revised annual standard will have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs. EPA estimates health benefits of the revised standard would range from $4 billion to over $9 billion per year.

    The PM Advance program is designed to help communities who meet current standards continue to meet the standards. Early work to reduce fine particles, such as PM Advance participation, can be incorporated into required planning. Through the program, participants will commit to taking specific steps to reduce fine particle pollution, such as putting in place a school bus retrofit program or an air quality action day program, while EPA will supply technical advice, outreach information, and other support. While Federal rules are expected to ensure that most areas meet the new standards, areas can participate in PM Advance to help them remain in attainment.
    Access a release from EPA (click here). Access more information on the PM Advance program (click here). Access the 40-page PM Advance Memo and Guidance (click here). [#Air]
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

NAS Report On Security Implications Of Climate & Social Stress

Jan 16: The  National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) released a report entitled, Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis. The report indicates that "Core features of the climate change situation are known with confidence. The greenhouse effect associated with the carbon dioxide molecule has been measured, as has the dwell time of that molecule and its concentration in the atmosphere. We also know that the rate at which carbon dioxide is currently being added to the atmosphere substantially exceeds the natural rate that prevailed before the rise of human societies. . ."
    The report indicates that in principle the "thermal impulse could be mitigated to a degree that would presumably preserve the current operating conditions of human societies, but the global effort required to do that is not being undertaken and cannot be presumed. As a practical matter, that means that significant burdens of adaptation will be imposed on all societies and that unusually severe climate perturbations will be encountered in some parts of the world over the next decade with increasing frequency and severity thereafter.
    "There is a compelling reason to presume that specific failures of adaptation will occur with consequences more severe than any yet experienced, severe enough to compel more extensive international engagement than has yet been anticipated or organized. This report has been prepared at the request of the U.S. intelligence community with these circumstances in mind. It summarizes what is currently known about the security effects of climate perturbations, admitting the inherent complexities and the very considerable uncertainties involved. But under the presumption that these effects will be of increasing significance, it outlines the monitoring activities that the intelligence community should be developing in support of improved anticipation, more effective prevention efforts, and more decisive emergency reaction when that becomes necessary."
    Further the report indicates that, "The U.S. intelligence community is expected to monitor and provide warnings about a wide variety of security threats -- not only risks of international wars that might threaten U.S. interests or require a U.S. military response, but also risks of violent subnational conflicts in countries of security concern, threats to the stability of states and regions, and risks of major humanitarian disasters in key regions of the world. This intelligence mission requires the consideration of activities and processes anywhere in the world that might lead, directly or indirectly, to threats to U.S. national security.
    "In recent years, the accumulation of scientific evidence that the global climate is changing beyond the bounds of past experience has raised expectations of new stresses on societies around the world, creating possible security risks for the
United States. Those stresses include situations in which climate events (e.g., droughts, heat waves, or storms) have consequences that exceed the capacity of affected countries to cope and respond. The U.S. intelligence and security communities have recognized the need to evaluate possible connections between climate change and U.S. national security concerns, and to increase their ability to consider climate change when assessing possible threats to national security."
    Among other conclusions, the report indicates, "Security analysts should anticipate that over the next decade, droughts, heat waves, storms, or other climate events of surprising intensity or duration will stress communities, societies, governments, and the globally integrated systems that support human well-being. These surprises are likely to appear first as unusually severe extensions of familiar experience, and the consequences of at least some of these events are likely to be felt in places remote from the regions in which the events occur. They will include both single extreme events and simultaneous or sequential conjunctions of
events; both types will become progressively more serious and more frequent.
    "The conjunctions will likely include apparently unrelated climate events that occur closely in time, although perhaps widely separated geographically, such as simultaneous droughts in the southwestern United States and in Argentina; sequences or cascades of events that precipitate unexpected physical or biological consequences; and shocks to globally connected systems, such as food markets, strategic commodity supply chains, and public health systems. Security risks posed by these climate surprises are unlikely to be anticipated by looking only at climate trends and projections. . .
    ". . .the U.S. government should begin immediately to develop a systematic and enduring whole-of-government strategy for monitoring threats related to climate change. This monitoring should be globally applicable and should include climate phenomena, exposures and vulnerabilities, and factors that link aspects of climate and vulnerability to important security outcomes. Analysis based on this monitoring will require integrating quantitative indicators with traditional security and intelligence analytic methods; collecting new and finer-grained data while maintaining critical existing observational systems; analyzing new and existing data; and improving analytic techniques."
    Access the complete 253-page report (click here). [#Climate]
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