Is the Hot Summer Breathing New Life into Addressing Climate Change?

It is an issue that just won't go away...Our incredibly hot summer seems to have re-focused attention on doing something regarding climate change. 

James E. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in Friday's Washington Post, announced the release of a new study.  The title of Mr. Hansen's op-ed piece shows what the new study concludes- Climate Change is Here---and Worse than
We Thought:

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.
 

Media reports from this summer are painting a dramatic picture of the impact from the summer's heat wave.  Take today's AP news article - Thousands of Fish Die as Midwest Streams Heat Up:

Thousands of fish are dying in the Midwest as the hot, dry summer dries up rivers and causes water temperatures to climb in some spots to nearly 100 degrees.

About 40,000 shovelnose sturgeon were killed in Iowa last week as water temperatures reached 97 degrees.....The fish are victims of one of the driest and warmest summers in history. The federal U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states are experiencing some form of drought, and the Department of Agriculture has declared more than half of the nation's counties — nearly 1,600 in 32 states — as natural disaster areas. More than 3,000 heat records were broken over the last month.

With new media reports of the impact of the heat wave and new studies emerging confirming the impact of climate change conservatives have started to see its an issue that they need to get ahead of rather than simply resist.

Conservative groups have held meetings this summer to talk about pushing for a carbon tax to replace other taxes while addressing climate change.  A recent CNN article discusses how the proposal to put a tax on certain fossil fuels in gaining support amount some Republicans-  Carbon Tax Gets Unusual Support:

We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs," President Reagan's former Secretary of State George Shultz said in a recent interview with Stanford University News. Shultz now heads a task force at Stanford that is currently studying the feasibility of a carbon tax.

For Shultz there are many reasons to support such a tax. One is making fossil fuel energy sources absorb costs that are currently borne out by society at large, such as through higher health insurance premiums or Medicare bills caused by pollution-induced diseases.

He also cites energy independence, as well as global warming, "which is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact," he said. "The arctic is melting. A lot of people seem to be scoffing at the idea of global warming, but reality will catch up with them."

The old saying is that elections go the way of the economy.  Perhaps the debate over climate change regulation goes the way of the weather.  

Political ads still try and cast support for cap and trade as a negative for those politicians that supported the proposal in Congress.  However, as long as media headlines are filed with the dramatic impacts of this years hot summer, it will become much more difficult for politicians to cast support for doing something on climate change as a negative. Perhaps that is why conservative groups are trying to get ahead of the curve by exploring policy options that they see as more palatable. 

Let's say Romney wins the election.  Do you see President Romney, with the current "hot weather" news cycle, repealing all of the EPA climate change regulations without some sort of new policy initiative like a carbon tax?  That just seems far less likely. 

For an interesting discussion as to whether climate change regulation is back on the table, see the National Journal's Energy Expert's Blog- Is Momentum Building to Act on Climate Change.

Benefits of Biomass Power Questioned- Implications for Ohio

Ohio's best hope for reducing its overwhelming dependence on coal for electricity generation is  biomass.  While wind and solar have significant benefits, it is unquestioned that current technology does not allow these renewable sources to be forms of base-load power generation. 

Biomass does have that potential in Ohio, as is evidenced by the recent announcements of the conversion of 312-megawatt First Energy's Burger coal-fired power plant to biomass generation.  Now that proposal is meeting opposition by environmental groups. As reported in Biomass Magazine:

The Ohio Environmental Council and Consumers’ Counsel have asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to reject FirstEnergy’s request for classification of its project as a renewable energy facility on the grounds that it has not provided enough information to warrant the qualification...The two agencies are now requesting dismissal of the application altogether.  “The whole state could be deforested to produce energy for this one project.” (attorney OEC)

Opposition to the First Energy proposal will undoubtedly make movement toward biomass as a replacement for Ohio's coal dependence much more difficult. 

Studies have confirmed that biomass presents the best hope for Ohio re-aligning its generation portfolio. A 2004 study by The Ohio State University analyzed the potential of biomass as an source of electricity generation in Ohio:

Recent studies illustrate that Ohio as a relatively large biomass resource potential.  Among the 50 states, Ohio ranks 11th in terms of herbaceous and wood biomass and 4th in terms of food waste biomass.  As a result, using renewable biomass fuels in Ohio could lead to an estimated 27.6 billion in kWh of electricity, which is enough to fully support the annual needs of 2,758,000 average homes, or 64% of the residential electricity use in Ohio.

Now a new study calls into question a long held belief regarding the benefits of biomass power. It has always been assumed that biomass is better than fossil fuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The assumption is based upon the "carbon cycle:"

Through photosynthesis, biomass removes carbon from the atmosphere, thus reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major contributors to global warming.  When biomass is burned to produce energy, the stored carbon is released, but the next grown cycle absorbs carbon from the atmosphere once again.  (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Webpage on Biomass Energy)

A new study now questions the "carbon cycle" benefits of biomass power.  It comes from a State that has historically been a very strong supporter of biomass energy- Massachusetts.   The Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study, released in June 2010, addresses the following issues:

  • Sustainable forest management and ecological implications of biomass harvesting
  • Carbon sequestration of forests with and without forest management
  • Net effect of biomass energy on atmospheric carbon balance
  • U.S. and international policies in regard to biomass and carbon neutrality

The study concludes that use of forest biomass actually has greater emissions of CO2 (a greenhouse gas) than commonly utilized fossil fuels.  The chart below from the study shows forest biomass (wood) generates 31% more CO2 than coal.

Does the conclusions of this study mean Ohio should no longer consider biomass as having the best renewable energy potential?

I don't think that is the case.  As discussed numerous times on this blog, the cost of coal is going to increase as a result of ever tightening environmental requirements (ozone & fine particle standards, MACT (mercury), revamped CAIR).  This doesn't even include eventual climate change regulations that target reductions from existing sources. Therefore, there is a very strong incentive for Ohio to continue to quickly re-balance its power generation portfolio. 

 Certainly the other benefits of biomass remain unquestioned.  These include:

  • Renewable resource- sustainability of the resource
  • Non-CO2 pollutant reductions
  • Only alternative energy source with immediate base-load power potential

While development of biomass continues to make sense, it is important to continue to question assumptions regarding any alternative resource.  The recent Massachusetts study is worthy of consideration when making strategic decisions regarding re-balancing Ohio's generation portfolio.

 

Federal Court Decision Increases Pressure on Congress to Pass Climate Change Legislation

The Federal Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit) issued a major decision in the ever growing debate regarding action on climate change.  The court is allowing states to proceed with a suit against power companies that calls for a court order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases which  contribute to global warming.

Eight states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin), New York City and three land trust organization had filed a suit alleging major power plants caused a nuisance by emitting greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.  The Appeal Court decision follows a lower court which dismissed the case on an interesting rule of law- the "political question doctrine."  In essence the lower court found the nuisance claim to raise a very complicated political question that was best left to the Executive and Legislative branches of government.  That questions was the balance between:

1) Reducing greenhouse gases to eliminate or mitigate societal impacts that flow from climate change

- versus-

2) The negative impact on the economy caused by the regulations and the societal impacts that would result

The Appeals Court ruled that the States did not need to wait for Congress to act by passing legislation.  The Court also ruled that EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act does not displace nuisance claims.  The Court noted that the mere issuance of a proposed endangerment finding by EPA was not enough to displace judicial relief under federal common law nuisance theories.

Other significant findings in the Appeals Court decision include:

  • The Court found the States are experiencing current "injury in fact" due to impacts from climate change, including melting California snow pack and erosion on the Massachusetts shoreline
  • Emitters of greenhouse gases face potential nuisance liability by contributing to climate change.  The Court rejected the notion there must be a direct causation between the sources of emissions and global warming.

The decision will certainly increase pressure on those who have resisted passage of climate change legislation.  Those who stand in the way of legislation must face the prospect of either: a) EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act; or b) Court ordered caps on emissions through multiple nuisance claims.  Either result would be far worse that the legislative option.  Both would result in even more complex regulatory schemes, less certainty and more regulation of smaller sources.

Perhaps there will be a renewed sense of urgency to pass climate change legislation.  American Electric Power, one of the utilities sued, was quoted in the N.Y. Times asserting the need for climate change legislation

At American Electric Power, Pat D. Hemlepp, a spokesman, said the company’s lawyers had not decided whether to appeal. But he added: “We don’t feel that litigation is a proper avenue to address climate concerns. In our view, it’s a policy issue.”

“Legislation would be the best approach, and that’s happening now,” Mr. Hemlepp said, referring to a bill that has passed the House and that the Senate may take up this year. 

UPDATE 9/24/09:  Another wrinkle that I did not discuss regarding this decision is that it will open up the floodgates of climate change litgation.   As appropriately acknowledged on Stoel Rives LLP Renewable + Law Blog, private parties now have been recognized to have standing to bring federal nuisance claims:

The court recognized that the Supreme Court had never addressed this question, but concluded that private parties should be able to proceed with federal nuisance claims related to climate change when they invoke an overriding federal interest or federalism concerns. By holding that private parties can bring federal nuisance suits and by recognizing that climate change is of overriding federal interest, the court potentially cleared the way for federal lawsuits against all types of companies that emit material levels of greenhouse gases.

Small Business See Benefits of Energy Efficiency Projects

Small businesses are deeply concerned with the economic impacts of the proposed cap-and-trade legislation currently pending in Congress.  Although small businesses will not be covered by the cap, if a price is placed on carbon, small businesses will feel the economic impact through energy price increases.  This is particularly true in the Midwest which is heavily reliant on carbon intensive coal power for its electricity generation.

With the hot national debate over cap-and-trade,  it is understandable that everyone is focused on the potential impacts of climate legislation on the economy.  However, I think this ignores the broader reality.  As discussed on this blog before there are other factors at work driving energy prices higher. (See, Cap and Trade: Job Killer or Call to Action for Coal States)  These include:

  • A new program requiring control of mercury emissions from coal fired power plants
  • Ever tightening federal ozone and fine particle pollution standards that will result in additional compliance costs for utilities
  • A revamped cap-and-trade program for utilities in light of the Court decisions regarding the Clean Air Interstate Rule
  • Potential tighter regulations on ash ponds and other utility wastes

If commodity prices rebound as a result of the economic recovery, price increases will be compounded.

For small businesses who are not prepared, high energy prices could force them out of business.

So, how can small businesses meet this threat through strategic action?  I would submit that any small business that is even moderately energy intensive should aggressively consider adopting energy efficient practices.

Today, the National Small Business Association released a report assessing the value of one practice, called "on-bill financing", that shows tremendous promise in reducing energy usage by small businesses.  According to the report, energy-efficiency programs such as on-bill financing can help the average small business save $4,932—and oftentimes more—every year on its energy bills.

On- Bill Financing- How it Works

Despite the benefits of energy efficiency projects, common barriers exist that prevent many businesses from implementing cost saving measures.  As detailed in the report, these include:

Cash flow: With tight margins and relatively small revenues, many small businesses find it challenging to undertake new capital investments, even if they will save money over time.  Fifty-two percent of small-business owners see cash flow as the primary barrier to investing in energy efficiency.

Up-front capital required: A typical energy-efficiency project might cost from $7,500 up to more than $20,000, with some projects costing a bit less and a few costing far more. 

Energy efficiency is only one priority among many: Small-business owners are heavily focused on the business at hand: managing inventory, maintaining payroll, providing health insurance, etc. They rarely have the time to focus on their energy bills, on energy-efficiency measures, or on their greenhouse gas emissions profile.

On-bill financing overcomes these barriers by: 1) identifying projects for the customer; and 2) providing up-front payment for the cost of the project and favorable repayment terms.

How are projects identified? Utilities identify businesses that may benefit from energy efficient project.  The utilities will use specialty trained contractors to perform an energy audit of the business to identify opportunities to reduce usage and save money.  The customers than elects whether to implement the project.  If the business implements the project it gets financed by the utility and repaid over time on the customers bill. 

The cost savings and the ability to reduce the impact of increasing energy prices are tremendously important to the vitality of small businesses.  There are also major environmental benefits as well. The report concludes that small business could collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 259 million tons each year if they improved their energy efficiency by just 25 percent. 

A strong push for robust on-bill financing programs seems warranted. 

Climate Update: Latest Developments on the Politics of Climate Legislation

 

Here are some snapshots of some of the latest developments regarding the Congressional debate over cap and trade legislation.  For the first time serious consideration of legislation is underway.  As a result, groups are beginning to develop their public positions.  Meanwhile, businesses continue to feel increasing pressure to address the risks associated with climate change.

Congressional Battle Lines Are Forming-  In my last post I apparently underestimated the aggressiveness of the Conservative attack on the Cap and Trade Proposal.  The legislative battle is beginning to take shape. RNC Chairman Steele said the following on a call in talk show

We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green.

Skepticism among "Blue Dog" Democrats:  As serious consideration of a cap and trade bill is now underway, conservative Democrats are questioning the timing and implementation of a cap and trade proposal.  In a Wall Street Journal interview with U.S. Climate Action Partnership member, Fred Krupp, he minimized the concern a divide is occurring within the Democratic Party:

Recently I met with 27 House Blue Dog Democrats, alongside other members of USCAP including [GE boss] Jeffrey Immelt, [Shell’s] Marvin Odum, and [Duke Energy’s] James Rogers. What I heard is that they want to be involved in getting a climate bill right, and making it fair for consumers; I didn’t see a lack of engagement. Until now, there’d been no prospect of legislation. Now, the sorts of concerns are raised that naturally get raised when things could actually happen. This is part of the legislative dance, and that just began in earnest when President Obama called on Congress to deliver a climate bill.

Size of the Climate Bill May 2 or 3 Times Projected in the President's Budget- Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told Senate staffers in late February that the plan could raise two to three times as much as the official budget figures, or between $1.3 trillion and $1.9 trillion, the WSJ reports.

[In order to get projections that high] That leaves carbon-emissions permits that are simply more expensive than the lowish prices that have been bandied about so far. To make the White House math work, the government would have to sell the same number of permits at prices ranging from $20 to more than $40 a ton [compared to $10 to $14 per ton originally projected.  For comparison the most recent RGGI auction, carbon was around $3 per ton]

Cap and Trade Means Jobs-  Understanding the link between a struggling economy and the viability of cap and trade legislation, the Environmental Defense Fund has launched a new web site showing regulating carbon can translate into green jobs.  The site contains maps of select states with push pins representing various companies that EDF argues would benefit from cap and trade legislation. It is no coincidence that EDF uses mainly coal states to highlight the potential for green job growth.  www. lesscarbonmorejobs.org

Insurers Must Disclose Climate Change Risks-  Another indication came last week that climate change is having real world impacts on the business community even before a vote occurs on cap and trade legislation.  The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) voted last week to require the annual filing of Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Surveys for insurance companies with annual premiums topping $500 million. The new rule, set to begin May 1, 2010, is the world's first climate risk disclosure requirement,

Market Solutions Versus Top Down Regulation-  The freight train that is greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation is on track and moving full steam ahead.  I cannot repeat enough to those debating climate change legislation, if you are focusing only on whether to enact cap and trade legislation you are missing the 800 lbs gorilla in the room.  GHG regulation is coming.  The Supreme Court set the train in motion with Massachusetts v. EPA.  No real debate should occur without examining the alternative of allowing Clean Air Act regulation of GHGs instead of a market based solution like cap and trade.

 

Carbon Cap Legislation Will Be A Struggle, But Success Is Essential

If you are like me you have noticed a lot more people talking about climate change in the last month.  President Obama's cap and trade proposal has certainly garnered more attention on the subject.  Many opponents tend to ask why we should be pursuing such a massive program in the middle of an economic crisis.  Unfortunately, I have also had more conversations with individuals asserting global warming is a hoax or overblown.

Recent polling data supports that lack of firm public support that will be necessary to pass cap and trade legislation. A recent Gallup poll shows more Americans are beginning to question global warming now that a serious legislative proposal has been offered.

Eroding public support for cap and trade is having its effect on the debate in Congress. A recent Detroit News article cites eroding support even among Democrats:

Citing the burden the standards would put on manufacturing, particularly automobile-related manufacturing, Michigan Democratic senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow are signaling their opposition.

Levin, six other Democrats and 26 Republicans are objecting to a Senate procedural budget reconciliation process that would limit debate and amendments to Obama’s proposed debate cap-and-trade legislation, according to the Detroit News.
 

As many have observed, the political debate in Congress may shape up to be less about political party and more about geography.  Senators, whether Democrat or Republican, from coal states or manufacturing states will find it very difficult to support cap and trade legislation.

What is even more threatening to a cap and trade proposal is that the Republicans have yet to fully seize on their attack message- with the economy in shambles now is not the time to be enacting climate change legislation.  Right now, Republicans are soft peddling opposition to cap and trade, as articulated in Reuters recently by Sen. Murkowski:

Congress will not be able to pass legislation capping carbon emissions in 2009 if the economy continues its downward slide, a key Republican senator said on Monday.

"If the economy is still where we are right now, I would suggest to you it's not happening this year," Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters at a Platts Energy Podium.

Once the polling numbers show they can win the debate, you know they will ratchet up the heat...so to speak. 

What does the challenge of passing carbon legislation mean? As discussed in prior posts, it means that regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) through the Clean Air Act will happen first and in a dramatic fashion.  Many of those opposing carbon cap and trade legislation seem to ignore this reality. 

EPA has already drafted final emission reporting rules for GHGs.  Next month, EPA is likely to issue their draft endangerment finding.  In addition, EPA will take additional action to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act.  Massive litigation will follow all of these rulemaking efforts.  More suits will be filed by environmental groups looking to use existing authority under the Clean Air Act to block new plants or reduce emissions. 

Unfortunately, the command and control approach that will result from regulation under the Clean Air Act will be far more costly and will create great uncertainties.  Cap and trade has consistently been shown to be more effective and a cheaper way of reducing emissions. 

The clash between cap & trade and regulation under the Clean Air Act, was recently highlighted by a project titled "Breaking the logjam."  This project involved N.Y. University School of Law and New York Law School and enlisted 40 environmental law experts across the ideological spectrum.  The conclusion of the report was cap and trade is a far more effective means of addressing climate change:

Experience has shown the cap and trade approach to criteria pollutants can achieve cuts at lower cost than are achievable under the highly prescriptive and cumbersome regulatory method at the heart of the current statute [Clean Air Act]

In my mind, the debate cannot be framed in terms of either regulation or no regulation.  There is no such option. There is certainly enough Congressional support for addressing climate change that any legislative proposal to amend the Clean Air Act to prevent regulation of GHGs will be unsuccessful. 

Rather, the debate must be viewed as which method of regulation is the better option.  When viewed in this manner, we should be debating the elements of the cap and trade legislation- offsets and auction v. allocation-not whether to pass such legislation. 

EPA Proposes Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule

In accordance with the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued its proposed rule to require annual mandatory reporting of greenhouse gases from over 13,000 businesses.  Businesses covered by the rule must start tracking emissions by 2010 and report in 2011 on an annual basis. While specific sources are named, EPA has decided to use an emission threshold of 25,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents (mtCO2e) to determine coverage for many businesses under the rule. 

The details of the EPA reporting rule may provide a glimpse into the structure of President Obama's Cap and Trade program.  For example, the 25,000 mtCO2e and specifically named source categories may be used to determine which businesses are covered by the cap.  It is also important to note, the coverage of the reporting rule contrasts with much lower threshold triggers used by other regulatory programs under the Clean Air Act.

Which gases are covered by the rule?

U.S. EPA will require reporting of anthropogenic GHG emissions covered under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), as well as other fluorinated gases (e.g., nitrogen trifluoride and hydrofluorinated ethers). These gases are often expressed in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (mtCO2e). 

All the other GHGs have higher potential to cause global warming.  Therefore, as with other the European Union Trading System, a conversion ratio is applied to create carbon dioxide equivalents.  For example, 1 ton of methane is equal to 20 tons of CO2.  These conversion ratios are important to understand because they determine which businesses are covered by the reporting rule.

For example, a large agricultural operation will have significant emissions of methane.  The facility will need to convert its methane emissions to CO2 equivalents to determine if it is a facility covered. [Note: most agricultural operations are exempted from coverage under the rule]

How did EPA pick the 25,000 mtCO2e threshold?

EPA considered thresholds of 1,000, 10,000, 25,000, and 100,000 mtCO2e/year when developing the proposal. For each threshold, EPA assessed the number of facilities that would be covered as well as the total amount of emissions that would be covered. These analyses suggested that at a threshold of 25,000 metric tons of mtCO2e/year, 13,000 facilities and 85-90% of total GHG emissions would be covered. At a threshold of 10,000 mtCO2e/year approximately 20,000 facilities and 86-91% of GHG emissions would be covered.  EPA felt reducing the threshold increased costs for smaller businesses and would not result in a significantly larger inventory of emissions.

Are other facilities with lower than 25,000 mtCO2e required to report?

Yes.  EPA also named specific source categories that are covered by mandatory reporting regardless of whether they cross the 25,000 mtCO2e threshold.  These sources include, among others, the following: electric generating plants subject to the Acid Rain program, aluminum, ammonia, cement, electronics, lime, petrochemical, petroleum refining, certain underground coal mines, manufacturers of engines, and municipal landfills.

EPA also included "downstream" sources.  Those facilities that produce fuel that when burned result in GHGs emissions.  This producers include: coal, coal-based liquid fuels; petroleum products, natural gas and natural gas liquids; producers of industrial greenhouse gases as listed in the rule; and importers/exporters of 25,000 mtCO2e. 

How will this affect small and medium sized businesses?

Using this threshold,  EPA estimates this will capture 90% of GHG emissions and require 13,000 businesses to report. In rolling out its proposed rule, EPA tries to deflect criticism leveled by the U.S. Chamber and others that  EPA GHG regulations will have a negative impact on small and medium sized businesses.  EPA provides the following fact relative to the 25,000 threshold:

25,000 mtCO2e are equivalent to emissions from annual energy use of about 2,200 homes. It is also equivalent to just over 58,000 barrels of oil consumed or 131 railcars’ worth of coal.

This statistic does give you some perspective on the magnitude of the sources covered by the reporting rule.  However, just because these larger sources are covered by the reporting rule does not necessarily mean that regulation of GHGs under the Clean Air Act would not capture much smaller sources.  For example, the New Source Review permitting threshold for a major source is 100/250 tons of a pollutant.

What is the method for monitoring emissions?

EPA selected a combination of direct measurement and facility specific calculations as the general monitoring approach.  Direct measurement will require Continuous Emission Monitors (CEMs) on some sources.  Other sources will have to use emission calculations designed for that type of facility. EPA asserts that the emission calculations are similar to those used in other programs such as the Climate Registry or California's AB-32. 

Consistency is an important issues.  EPA estimates the cost to report will be around $13,000 per facility.  This is an average which means it will be much higher for some facilities.  Many companies have voluntarily begun measuring emissions under the Climate Registry or another approach.  Other companies are covered by mandatory state programs like RGGI. 

The ability to agree on a common method for measuring emissions is critical.  It will reduce compliance costs and prevent criticism that there are inconsistencies in the various programs.  For these reasons, the comments on this portion of the rule are critical. 

Has there been an early criticism of the rule?

Yes.  The largest amount of criticism has been focused on the reporting requirement being applied to both upstream and downstream sources of GHGs emission.  As an example, the coal mine and the power plant who later burns the coal are both required to report under the rule.  Some have criticized this approach as "double counting" or a waste of resources.  Others have pointed out that EPA needs to gather a range of data to keep policy options open for controlling GHGs. 

Additional Information:

For more information on the rule, see EPA's web page dedicated to the GHG reporting rule.  Also, EPA has prepared a four page fact sheet that does a good job summarizing the major components of the rule.

Obama's Environmental Agenda Collides with the Economy

Have you ever heard of the irresistible force paradox?  What would happen if an irresistible force met an in-movable object?  I think this paradox may describe what will happen when the Obama Administration's environmental agenda meets the reality of the economy. 

Remember a few months back when oil peaked around $140 a barrel.  Of course you do...But do you also remember the momentum that the green movement due to the reality of limited resources and escalating energy prices.  Everything looks possible- a shift to renewable energy, energy conversation, higher gas mileage vehicles, and climate change legislation.

Now, only a few months later and oil is around $60-70 a barrel (I just filled up my gas tank for $1.90 per gallon)  We saw an economic meltdown the likes that has not been seen since the Great Depression.  How did this effect the momentum (the irresistible force) behind the Green Movement.  Let's take a sampling of recent headlines....

  • Many Solar Energy Firms Likely to Fold During Economic Crisis- Analysts say nearly three-fourths of all solar energy companies could go out of business due to extremely tight credit, intense competition to produce solar panels, and falling prices.
  • Local Government's Reconsider Costs of Green Building Mandates- The poor economy means tight budgets for most local governments.  This has forced local governments to begin questioning the costs associated with mandating LEED certification on new construction.
  • T. Boone Pickens Places Wind Farm On Hold-  The dramatic drop in the cost of natural gas and the global credit crunch makes wind less competitive, according to Pickens.  As a result, he is putting on hold or scrapping plans for his massive 4,000 megawatt wind farm in Texas. (comment:  I guess Mr. Pickens is still a business man and not just motivated by getting us off of foreign oil)
  • Renewable Energy Blues-  As reported in the Wall Street Journal, "when fossil fuel prices were soaring, things like offshore wind farms suddenly looked appealing, and guaranteed electricity prices from wind farms looked like a bargain. But with fossil fuel prices headed south and capital getting more expensive, renewables are losing some of their glow." (see also "Clean Energy Meltdown, Now GE is Bailing")
  • Will EU Member States Use Economic Meltdown to Avoid Climate Targets-  When the economic crisis spread to Europe, the EU's ambitious goals on Climate Change were second guessed.  The current EU target of a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020 is set to automatically increase to 30%. Recently, Poland, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria have opposed an increase in reduction targets.   Other EU countries are also second guessing their commitments. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Germany’s foreign minister said recently: “This crisis changes priorities.” 

Exit polling from yesterday's election indicated that around 60% of the people who cast their vote made their decision based on issues associated with the economy.  After a quick search I could not even find where the environment ranked as a motivating issue.  I'm willing to bet it was a non-issue for the majority of the voters.

When the Obama Administration takes office and develops their environmental agenda it is likely to include: strong climate change legislation, renewable energy mandates, and policies that will not favor fossil fuels.  However, that Agenda will meet an immovable object that will likely cloud Obama's entire first term...the economy.  What emerges from the collision is anyone's guess.

(Photo: Flickr Transplanted Mountineer)

Politics Won't Decide Whether CO2 Is Regulated Under the Clean Air Act

Recently, there has been quite a buzz around the issue of using the existing authority in the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  In July, U.S. EPA issued its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) responding to the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA and soliciting comment on use of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.

Notwithstanding EPA's solicitation of public comments, the buzz really kicked in following a recent statement by Jason Grumet in a Bloomberg interview that an Obama Administration would regulate greenhouse gases under existing authority in the Clean Air Act if Congress fails to act within 18 months.

The Wall Street Journal printed a scathing editorial of the notion an Obama Administration would move forward and regulate greenhouse gases without Congressional action:

In an interview last week with Bloomberg, Mr. Grumet said that come January the Environmental Protection Agency "would initiate those rulemakings" that classify carbon as a dangerous pollutant under current clean air laws. That move would impose new regulation and taxes across the entire economy, something that is usually the purview of Congress. Mr. Grumet warned that "in the absence of Congressional action" 18 months after Mr. Obama's inauguration, the EPA would move ahead with its own unilateral carbon crackdown anyway.
 

Left leaning blogs like Gristmill have come out in support of the idea:

I've talked to a few people behind the scenes who are big fans of this approach. One of its primary virtues is that it allows the EPA to build on all the great work that states have done, knitting together and rationalizing their various efforts. Another is that it can be done quickly, without a Congressional battle, enabling the U.S. to go into the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks with a good-faith effort in hand.
 

Others in academia and in the green movement have come out in support.  In an article appearing in Environmental Finance, Michael Northrop and David Sassoon argue the Clean Air Act can be an effective tool for combating climate change. citing various legal experts from around the Country.  They conclude their article by saying:

The Clean Air Act is already a mature, flexible and successful law designed to integrate the work of all economic sectors and all levels of government. Honed in three stages of effort – the original lawmaking, and two major rounds of amendments – it is a functioning national regulatory structure that spans decades of deliberation, compromise and practice.

By applying the Clean Air Act, the next president can stand on the shoulders of legal and regulatory precedent. He can adopt an executive branch strategy to complement the next round of legislative efforts, now also in preparation. He can lead climate policy development through existing authority, and ensure that the US has a strong position going in to the next round of international climate negotiations. Action in the first hundred days can set the stage for genuine US re-engagement in the international climate effort in
Copenhagen in 2009.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber has already initiated a advocacy campaign urging against use of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions

The Chamber’s report concludes that over one million mid-sized to large commercial buildings in the industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors could potentially become subject to a costly and bureaucratic permitting process if EPA moves forward with its proposed rulemaking. These include:
o 260,000 office buildings;
o 150,000 warehouse and storage;
o 140,000 mercantile;
o 100,000 schools and other educational facilities;
o 92,000 health care facilities;
o 71,000 hotels, motels and other lodging facilities;
o 58,000 food service industry buildings;
o 37,000 houses of religious worship;
o 26,000 public assembly facilities; and
o 23,000 restaurants and food sales facilities.

The debate over the statements by Obama's adviser and the Chamber's effort to block an endangerment finding are overblown. If EPA does not act, the Court's will force them to.  In fact, the Deseret Power case, could very likely trigger such regulation without further action by EPA or before a new Administration takes the oath of office.

Massachusetts v. EPA ,which said greenhouse gases are a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act, sets in motion inevitable regulation under the Clean Air Act.  U.S. EPA's position is that the Clean Air Act is not applicable to GHGs until it moves forward with actual regulatory standards for their control or reduction.  But that is only a matter of time.  Even if EPA continues to delay action, suits challenging that delay will be successful, probably way before the 18 month time frame established by Mr. Grumet. 

While other branches of the federal government (Transpiration, Energy, Agriculture and Commerce) have commented that regulation is not inevitable, such argument find little support in the findings of the Supreme Court.  In my mind, due to inevitable Court action, those who worry about regulation of greenhouse gases under the current structure of the Clean Air Act would be wise to pursue Legislation.

As discussed in my next post, there is reason to worry about using the current structure of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. 

 

 

Latest Climate Change Lawsuit Targets Refinery Emissions

As reported in various newspapers, several states have moved forward with the next round of climate change litigation. The States have sued U.S. EPA arguing that the Agency illegally refused to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from refineries. 

Thelen's Climate Law Update, had a recent post discussing the lawsuit:

New York, California and 10 other states launched the latest lawsuit this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Although the document itself was bare-bones, officials said it's focused on the failure of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt regulations known as New Source Performance Standards to control pollutants blamed for causing global warming.

Lawyers working for California Attorney General Jerry Brown told Climate Law Update the case would draw legal support from last year's landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision last year. In that ruling the Supreme Court held the EPA had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases if it found they endangered human health or welfare.

So far, as Climate Law Update has reported, government officials have balked at such a move, calling the law "ill-suited" to controlling such emissions, and they have launched a lengthy effort to study the issue.


U.S. EPA pronounced that the Clean Air is "ill-suited" for regulation of GHGs when it issued its proposed rulemaking on regulation of greenhouse gases under the Act.   U.S. EPA's rulemaking is an analysis of the whether and how GHGs could be effectively controlled under the Clean Air Act. 

In U.S. EPA's latest action, refusal to regulate GHG emissions under the NSPS (new source performance standards), U.S. EPA asserted:

  1. The Clean Air Act does not mandate U.S. EPA regulate GHGs under the standard
  2. The Agency should be allowed to proceed with a more deliberate and thoughtful process in developing greenhouse gas regulations, then simply incorporating regulations as it develops source specific rules
  3. Regulating GHG under NSPS could require the Agency to develop regulations for other categories of sources and under several other parts of the Act.

While U.S. EPA may prefer a more deliberative process and a comprehensive approach, it does not prevent Courts from interpreting the Act to require regulation and force application on a case by case basis. As an example, we have already had one Court determine the Clean Air requires analysis of greenhouse gases during the permit process.

There is no doubt the wave of climate change litigation has not even crested. It is also certain that the Clean Air Act structure does not mesh well with regulation of greenhouse gases.  In fact, some of the most complicated provisions in the Clean Air Act, such as New Source Review, are overly complicated when applied to criteria pollutants (SO2, NOx, PM)  However, as long as Congress and U.S. EPA delay comprehensive action on climate change, we are likely to construct climate change regulation by default and in piecemeal fashion. 

 

 

Peak Carbon...Not Such A Crazy Idea

Dave Douglas, Chief Sustainability Officer for Sun Microsystems, recently wrote an article in which he predicts the United State's hit peak carbon in 2007 (meaning emissions will now trend downward).  Here is a quote from his article:

  So, now my prediction: Peak Carbon occurred in the US in 2007.

 Yep, I’m predicting that annual GHG emissions in the US will now drop regularly going forward, with only minor setbacks every once in awhile. My rationale is that there are short-term, medium-term and long-term drivers in place which are capable of, together, sustaining reductions over decades:

His article generated a lot of responses and criticism from many who believe the U.S. will continue to trend higher in emissions until meaningful federal greenhouse legislation passes Congress.  I actually agree with his prediction. 

$4 dollar gas is not going away.  From recent car sale reports, the American consumer is switching from SUV and pickups to compact cars.  Even if people are not buying a new car they are driving less.   The transportation sector makes up roughly one-third of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  Therefore, these consumer trends will translate into significant reductions.

Also, the switch toward renewable energy, the corporate sustainability movement, and greenhouse gas programs passed at the state level will all continue the trend downward.  Finally, federal legislation is inevitable, with many predicting a cap and trade program starting in 2012. 

In April, U.S. EPA released its greenhouse gas inventory report that analyzes emissions trends.  The main take away from the report...greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 1.1 from 2005 to 2006.  U.S. EPA concludes the decrease was attributable to the following:

  • compared to 2005, 2006 had warmer winter conditions, which decreased consumption of heating fuels, as well as cooler summer conditions, which reduced demand for electricity;
  • restraint on fuel consumption caused by rising fuel prices, primarily in the transportation sector; and
  • increased use of natural gas and renewables in the electric power sector.

    We have a long way to go, but it does appear that peak carbon is not such an outlandish prediction.