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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

EPA Proposes Smog Standards

Based on extensive recent scientific evidence about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone, or smog, EPA is proposing to strengthen air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment, while taking comment on a level as low as 60 ppb. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the standards every five years by following a set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts.

EPA last updated these standards in 2008, setting them at 75 ppb. EPA scientists examined numerous scientific studies in its most recent review of the ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update.  Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb -- the level of the current standard -- can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. 

Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints. People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include people with asthma, children, older adults, and those who are active or work outside. Stronger ozone standards will also provide an added measure of protection for low income and minority families who are more likely to suffer from asthma or to live in communities that are overburdened by pollution.

According to EPA’s analysis, strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days. Strengthening the standard to a range of 70 to 65 ppb would better protect both children and adults by preventing more than 750 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays.

EPA estimates that the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs.  If the standards are finalized, every dollar we invest to meet them will return up to three dollars in health benefits. These large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects valued at $6.4 to $13 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $19 to $38 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 65 ppb.  Annual costs are estimated at $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb.  

A combination of recently finalized or proposed air pollution rules – including “Tier 3” clean vehicle and fuels standards – will significantly cut smog-forming emissions from industry and transportation, helping states meet the proposed standards.  EPA’s analysis of federal programs that reduce air pollution from fuels, vehicles and engines of all sizes, power plants and other industries shows that the vast majority of U.S. counties with monitors would meet the more protective standards by 2025 just with the rules and programs now in place or underway. Local communities, states, and the federal government have made substantial progress in reducing ground-level ozone. Nationally, from 1980 to 2013, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. EPA projects that this progress will continue.

The Clean Air Act provides states with time to meet the standards. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards. To ensure that people are alerted when ozone reaches unhealthy levels, EPA is proposing to extend the ozone monitoring season for 33 states. This is particularly important for at-risk groups, including children and people with asthma because it will provide information so families can take steps to protect their health on smoggy days.

EPA is also proposing to strengthen the “secondary” ozone standard to a level within 65 to 70 ppb to protect plants, trees and ecosystems from damaging levels of ground-level ozone. New studies add to the evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone stunts the growth of trees, damages plants, and reduces crop yield.  The proposed level corresponds to levels of seasonal ozone exposure scientists have determined would be more protective.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by October 1, 2015. (EPA)

The proposal 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Keys Energy Center To Build Power Plant in Maryland

Keys Energy Center, a subsidiary of Genesis Power LLC, is a planned 780Mw combined cycle, natural gas-fired electric power generating facility located on 30 acres of a 170-acre parcel 1.25 miles east Brandywine. The estimated assessed value of the plant, which will generate enough electricity, according to Genesis, to power roughly 500,000 homes, will be $627 million. 
The County Council on Nov. 6 approved a payment in lieu of taxes for the plant project, under which Genesis will pay Prince George's $43.4 million over 18 years, roughly half of what it would have paid with no tax break. The Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission will receive $12.7 million over the life of the PILOT. The annual PILOT payments decline year-over-year as a result of plant depreciation.
The Keys Energy Center will be financed by EIF Keys LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of EIF United States Power Fund IV LP, a $1.7 billion private equity fund.
The project, located on a former gravel mine, will feature two combustion turbine generators, two heat-recovery steam generators, one condensing steam turbine generator, an air-cooled condenser, and a natural gas-fired boiler. It will connect to Pepco's power grid via a transmission line that passes adjacent to the plant, and an on-site substation. There will be a 140-foot-tall stack, and an anticipated 272 warm and hot start-ups per year.
The rural Brandywine site was chosen, according to Genesis, to minimize impacts on ecology, air quality, water supply, view sheds, noise pollution, transmission capacity and "adverse social economic impacts." On Oct. 31, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved the project, reporting "no witnesses or local residents objected to construction and operation of the project on any grounds."
Construction of the Keys Energy Center is expected to take 32 months and require 400 workers. Genesis will need another 25 full-time employees to manage the plant once it is operational in 2017.  (Washington Business Journal, 11/12/2014)

Keystone Pipeline Fails In Senate: Warren Buffet Benefits

PRESIDENT'S CORNER

By Norris McDonald

I have written about how any rejection of the shortcut Keystone Pipeline addition will benefit Warren Buffet by shifting transportation of the Canadian oil from pipeline to rail.  Buffet owns the rails that would transport that oil.  The U.S. Senate just voted to kill the Keystone Pipeline (even though it is already operating) by one vote (59 - 41) [S. 2280]*.  The approval of the pipeline needed 60 votes to be approved.

Buffet is banking on cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline to increase his share of oil-by-rail shipments.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway announced through a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it bought $524 million worth of Suncor stock last quarter. Suncor is a Canadian oil company that derives most of its current oil production -- and future expansion plans -- from Alberta's oil sands. 

Buffett bought Suncor to help ensure a steady supply of oil for his Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) railroad.  Oil currently accounts for about 4% of BNSF's freight. That's expected to double over the next several years. 

Suncor owns huge tracts of oil sands resources from which oil production is projected to continue to grow.

Suncor doesn't have the same transportation issues as some other oil sands producers. It has locked up more than enough pipeline and rail capacity to move its current and planed production for several years. Plus, it owns several refineries, which help the firm avoid having to sell its crude for the depressed, mid-continent prices.

* S. 2280 uthorizes TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. to construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline and cross-border facilities specified in an application filed by TransCanada Corporation to the Department of State on May 4, 2012.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Low Gasoline Prices Leading To More Guzzler Purchases

Over the last month consumers have shown a fresh interest in the kind of SUVs — Hummers, Lincoln Navigators, Ford Explorers — that typified America’s bigger-is-better mindset of twenty years ago. The new mindset among some car buyers is a consequence of a domestic oil boom that has helped cause global crude prices to plummet in recent months, with the cost of a gallon of gas now below $3. 



As oil prices hit a three-year low, it creates the potential to push the U.S. further away from its dreary post-recession mindset, leaving instead a nation with more affordable air and road transportation options, higher consumer confidence, and more gas guzzlers driving around.
Demand in developed countries (including the United States) is down over the last few years, the result mostly of improving automotive fuel efficiency. Meantime, supply is way up, helped by U.S. wildcatters riding the “fracking” boom in the prairies of North Dakota and the plains of Texas.
The current $78 for a barrel of the benchmark West Texas Intermediate could scale back exploration and production plans if prices continue to drop.
Before the financial crisis, trucks almost always outsold cars, in some months grabbing as much as 59 percent of the market. Post-recession, the industry has flip-flopped; cars are more popular.
But not in recent months. In September, the truck market share was 53.5 percent. In October, it was 53.6. That is the best sustained two-month stretch since 2005.
The environmental concerns are significant. All told, automobiles account for about 50 percent of an average household’s emissions, but that can swing widely based on the vehicle. A big SUV will produce about three times the annual greenhouse gas tonnage emitted by a Prius. (Wash Post, 11/10/2014)

Monday, November 10, 2014

President Obama's Net Neutrality Plan



The President's Statement
An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.

“Net neutrality” has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.

When I was a candidate for this office, I made clear my commitment to a free and open Internet, and my commitment remains as strong as ever. Four years ago, the FCC tried to implement rules that would protect net neutrality with little to no impact on the telecommunications companies that make important investments in our economy. After the rules were challenged, the court reviewing the rules agreed with the FCC that net neutrality was essential for preserving an environment that encourages new investment in the network, new online services and content, and everything else that makes up the Internet as we now know it. Unfortunately, the court ultimately struck down the rules — not because it disagreed with the need to protect net neutrality, but because it believed the FCC had taken the wrong legal approach.

The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone. I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online. The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:
  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs, and can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital. But combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.
The rules also have to reflect the way people use the Internet today, which increasingly means on a mobile device. I believe the FCC should make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, while recognizing the special challenges that come with managing wireless networks.
To be current, these rules must also build on the lessons of the past. For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business. That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information — whether a phone call, or a packet of data.
So the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.
Investment in wired and wireless networks has supported jobs and made America the center of a vibrant ecosystem of digital devices, apps, and platforms that fuel growth and expand opportunity. Importantly, network investment remained strong under the previous net neutrality regime, before it was struck down by the court; in fact, the court agreed that protecting net neutrality helps foster more investment and innovation. If the FCC appropriately forbears from the Title II regulations that are not needed to implement the principles above — principles that most ISPs have followed for years — it will help ensure new rules are consistent with incentives for further investment in the infrastructure of the Internet.
The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy — and our society — has ever known. The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet. I thank the Commissioners for having served this cause with distinction and integrity, and I respectfully ask them to adopt the policies I have outlined here, to preserve this technology’s promise for today, and future generations to come.

Friday, November 07, 2014

DOE Funds Cyber Attack Prevention Program For Utilities

The Department of Energy, as part of the Cybersecurity Risk Information Sharing Program (CRISP), awarded Norse Corp. a $1.9 million contract to give utilities within the program early warning of potential cyberattacks.  Since 2010 the Department of Energy has invested more than $150 million in cybersecurity research, development and commercialization projects led by industry, universities and national labs.

Norse runs a network of eight million sensors and crawlers that continuously analyze Internet traffic to identify compromised hosts, malicious botnets and other sources of digital attack. The network, located in data centers in 50 countries, also contains honeypots that emulate electrical industrial control systems, to lure in adversaries and determine which nation-states are probing certain types of software in the electric grid.

The announcement between CRISP and Norse marks the latest support by the federal government for platforms that facilitate cyberthreat information sharing between organizations. It also comes as Norse itself fends off a distributed denial of service attack against its own servers.

CRISP began over the past several years as a small DOE-funded pilot with five electric sector companies to help facilitate two-way sharing of unclassified and classified threat information. Previously utilities had complained that the government was not doing enough to share threat intelligence. In August, the CRISP program transitioned to an industry-managed and funded public-private partnership, managed by the Electricity Sector Information Sharing and Analysis Center, according to an October 31 blog post.

For utilities, having bigger picture threat information is quite useful.  There are some concerns about the type of information utilities are asked to share in CRISP, such as internal email and Web searches by employees. Municipal utilities can’t afford to hire cybersecurity experts, so access to the data Norse provides can be helpful in preventing a massive breach.

The contract with Norse is intended to give utilities access to early indicators of threats before they land in an energy company network. Norse will integrate its live attack intelligence with hardware from network security company FireEye Inc. to provide live threat analysis of traffic within and outside of the networks of energy companies participating in CRISP.

While there are other threat intelligence services, Norse differentiates itself in terms of the scale and velocity of information it can process. The company is registered as an Internet service provider (with only one customer, itself) but it processes data on a similar scale to a tier 1 ISP. It is in 50 countries, in 200 data centers and processes 160 terabytes of traffic per day.

Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks try to flood a target’s servers with Internet traffic in order to knock it offline. (WSJ,  11/6/2014)

2 Japanese Nuclear Reactors Approved For Restart

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has described nuclear power as essential to economic growth because Japan is now relying mostly on imported natural gas and coal for power.

One of the last major hurdles to restarting nuclear reactors in Japan was cleared Friday when a southern prefecture gave its approval.  Kagoshima prefecture’s decision clears the way for two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. to reopen as soon as early next year, giving the nation its first electricity from nuclear power since September 2013 when the last of 48 reactors went offline.

Japan toughened safety regulations after the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The two reactors in the Kagoshima prefecture city of Satsuma Sendai cleared the regulations earlier this year.

Polls have consistently shown the public opposed to nuclear restarts by a 2-to-1 margin. In a poll conducted Oct. 18-19 by Kyodo News, 60% of respondents said they were against restarts, while 31% were in favor. Still, in the same poll, 48% said they supported the Abe administration, in line with other recent polls.

Other power companies hope to follow Kyushu Electric Power’s lead and reopen reactors next year. However, many of the nation’s 48 reactors are aging or located in seismically sensitive zones, and it is unclear when, if ever, the nation will once again get a significant portion of its power from nuclear plants.

The nuclear outages have hit the local economies of cities where plants are located, and electricity prices nationwide have risen some 20% since 2011 to cope with the rising cost of imported fuel.  (WSJ, 11/7/2014)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Availability of 2013 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data

The Air Resources Board (ARB) and Québec’s ministère du
Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre
les changements climatiques (MDDELCC) will release the 2013
greenhouse gas emissions data at 12:00 pm (noon) Pacific Time,
3:00 pm Eastern Time, on Tuesday, November 4th. 

The California 2013 GHG emissions data was collected under the
ARB’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program and will be
posted on ARB’s Mandatory Reporting webpage at:

http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/reporting/ghg-rep/reported-data/ghg-reports.htm

The Quebec 2013 GHG emissions, for emitters subject to the
Regulation respecting a Cap-and-Trade System for greenhouse gas
emission allowances (Cap-and-Trade Regulation), were reported and
verified under the Regulation respecting mandatory reporting of
certain emissions of contaminants into the atmosphere and will be
available at:

http://www.mddelcc.gouv.qc.ca/changements/carbone/Emetteurs-participants-en.htm 

Background and History

California

The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32, or AB
32) requires ARB to adopt regulations for the mandatory reporting
of greenhouse gas emissions. The Regulation for the Mandatory
Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions went into effect on January
1, 2009. Over 700 entities, including facilities, fuel
suppliers, and electric power importers, are required to report
their greenhouse gas emissions data to ARB. Emissions data
reports from entities with 25,000 metric tons carbon dioxide
equivalent or greater emissions must be verified by
ARB-accredited third-party verifiers. The information in the
emissions data reports is used to support ARB’s climate change
programs, including California’s Cap-and-Trade Program.

More information about the Mandatory GHG Reporting Program is
available here:

http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/reporting/ghg-rep/ghg-rep.htm 

Quebec

The Cap-and-Trade Regulation is intended for businesses that emit
25,000 metric tons or more of CO2 equivalent annually, reported
and verified under the Regulation respecting mandatory reporting
of certain emissions of contaminants into the atmosphere,
excluding emissions specified in the second paragraph of section
6.6. For the first compliance period (2013–2014), only the
industrial and electricity sectors are subject to the
Cap-and-Trade System. However, with the start of the second
compliance period (2015-2017) in January 2015, businesses that
distribute fuel will also be subject to the Cap-and-Trade
System.

More information about the Cap-and-Trade System is available
here:

http://www.mddelcc.gouv.qc.ca/changements/carbone/index-en.htm 

California is in a drought emergency.
Visit www.SaveOurH2O.org for water conservation tips.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

NRC Resumes License Renewals For Nuclear Power Plant

graph of license expiration dates for operating U.S. nuclear reactors, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission


Following a two-year hiatus, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has resumed issuing license renewals for nuclear power plants. On October 20, the NRC renewed the operating licenses for Limerick Generating Station Units 1 and 2, located northwest of Philadelphia, extending their license expiration dates by 20 years, to 2044 and 2049, respectively. With this action, the NRC has granted license renewals providing a 20-year extension to a total of 74 of the 100 operating reactors in the United States. Nuclear power accounted for 20% of total power sector electricity generation in 2013.

NRC has the authority to issue initial operating licenses for commercial nuclear power plants for a period of 40 years. The decision to apply for an operating license renewal is made by nuclear power plant owners, and it is typically based on economics and the ability to meet NRC regulations. Operating licenses are renewed by NRC for a period of 20 years. To date, no applications for a second, or subsequent, license renewal, which could extend nuclear plant operating lives to 80 years, have been filed.

Renewing an operating license is contingent on several factors, including the safe management and disposal of waste. The NRC must determine that it has reasonable confidence that spent nuclear fuel can and will, in due course, be disposed of safely. This is known as waste confidence. Waste confidence enables the NRC to license new reactors or renew their operating licenses without examining the effects of extended waste storage for each individual site pending ultimate disposal.

In June 2012, following the termination of the repository program at Yucca Mountain, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down certain provisions of NRC's Waste Confidence Rule and stated that NRC should have analyzed the environmental consequences of never building a permanent waste repository. In response, the NRC issued an order in August 2012 that suspended actions related to issuing license renewals as well as new operating licenses, although the nuclear power industry continued to submit applications for license renewals. On September 18, 2014, the NRC issued the revised and renamed Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel rule, which became effective on October 20. With the issuance of the revised rule, the NRC may now resume issuing license renewals as well as new operating licenses.

NRC is currently reviewing license renewal applications for 17 reactors, including one for Indian Point Unit 2. Although the September 2013 expiration date of the original 40-year operating license for that plant is already past, NRC rules allow for continued operation of a reactor until the NRC completes its review of a pending license renewal if the application was submitted at least five years before the current license expires. Indian Point Unit 2, located on the Hudson River north of New York City, currently continues to operate according to this process, known as timely renewal. To date, Indian Point Unit 2 is the only reactor that has entered the process of timely renewal.

NRC also expects to receive license renewal applications from seven more reactors between 2015 and 2018. Plans for only one plant have not yet been announced; however, license expiration for this plant is not a near-term issue.

map of licensed renewal status of operating U.S. nuclear reactors, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

(DOE-EIA)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

EPA Clean Power Plan

Additional Information
Agency requests public comment on additional information 
As part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s extensive outreach since issuing the propose dClean Power Plan, EPA is making additional information and ideas available for public comment in a notice of data availability (NODA). At the same time, EPA is following through on its commitment made in June to propose goals to reduce carbon pollution in areas of Indian Country and U.S. Territories where fossil-fuel power plants are located.
EPA has engaged in outreach to stakeholders since proposing the Clean Power Plan, including states, utilities, industry, public health and environmental groups, labor, and community groups. During the many meetings, conference calls, and the nearly 1.5 million public comments the agency has received so far, stakeholders have identified a wide range of ideas and information.
In issuing today’s NODA, EPA is seeking to ensure that all interested parties are aware of the issues and ideas that have been consistently raised by a diverse group of stakeholders, so that everyone has the opportunity to consider them as they formulate their comments, which are due on Dec. 1, 2014. Notices of data availability are commonly used to present additional information for the public to consider. They do not change a proposal, nor are they a complete summary of the wide variety of ideas that have been raised. They allow EPA to continue seeking ideas and comments on these and many other issues as the agency works toward a final rule that is flexible and empowers states to chart their own, customized path to meet goals for reducing harmful carbon pollution.
Today’s actions are part of the common-sense steps laid out in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the June 2013 Presidential MemorandumPower plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While there are limits in place for arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution emissions, there are currently no national limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
 In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans' health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. Taking steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants will protect public health, continue the United States’ international environmental leadership, and move the nation toward a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations, while supplying the reliable, affordable power needed for economic growth.
Fact sheets and details about the NODA and the supplemental proposal
More information on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan:

Big Environmental Groups Contributing To Campaigns

Five environmental groups are on track to spend more than $85 million on key races this year according to spending plans in an internal memo.  This is the largest amount ever spent by environmentalists in an election cycle.  Te five green groups:
1) the Environmental Defense Action Fund,

2) Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund,
3) League of Conservation Voters,
4) Sierra Club and
5) Billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate — 

The record spending comes as green groups are worried about the fate of the Senate and the future of President Obama’s climate agenda, which they say is crucial to helping the U.S. and other nations curb greenhouse gas emissions and stave off disastrous climate impacts.
Out of those six Senate races, the groups have spent the most in Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-Colo.) reelection bid, totaling roughly $12.1 million. They have spent the second most in Rep. Bruce Braley’s (D) Senate bid in Iowa, totaling $7.2 million. 
The groups have also spent $6.6 million on Rep. Gary Peters (D) in Michigan, $4 million on Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in New Hampshire, $2.4 million for Sen. Kay Hagan’s (D) reelection in North Carolina and $1.9 million on Sen. Mark Begich (D) in Alaska. 

NextGen Climate, founded by Steyer in 2013, has spent a little over $50 million in both state and congressional races as of Oct. 20. That puts NextGen in front as the biggest spender among the climate groups this election cycle. The League of Conservation Voters comes in second as it is poised to spend $25 million on campaigns. (The Hill, 10/27/2014)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Allison Macfarlane Stepping Down As NRC Chair

Allison Macfarlane
Allison M. Macfarlane, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, announced Tuesday that she will resign to take a teaching job at George Washington University.

Macfarlane, who still has more than three years left in her term, will leave Jan. 1 and become director of the university’s Center for International Science and Technology Policy.  Macfarlane is trained as a geologist and a former professor at George Mason University. Macfarlane has served as NRC chair since July 9, 2012.

Macfarlane’s announcement comes one month after the Senate confirmed two new commissioners, Jeff Baran, an aide to departing Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-
Calif.), and Stephen Burns, a former NRC general counsel. (Wash Post, 10/21/2014)





Monday, October 20, 2014

Watts Bar 2 Almost Ready To Produce Electricity

Watts Bar 2, the nuclear reactor now approaching completion in Tennessee was dropped by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1988 after spending about $1.7 billion, when it was supposedly 80 percent complete. In 2007, the T.V.A. board voted to restart work.  The reactor is expected to cost $4 billion. The reactor will be a source of almost 3,000 jobs. It will be the first reactor of the 21st century.


Watts Bar 1, also mothballed in the 1980s, finally started in 1996. (NYT, 10/19/2014)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

PG&E Fined $1.4 billion For San Bruno Natural Gas Explosion

After nearly four years of investigation and hearings, Administrative Law Judges for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) have recommended that PG&E be fined $1.4 billion for a series of violations of State and Federal law related to a gas leak, explosion and fire in San Bruno, California in 2010 that result in 8 deaths, dozens of injuries and extensive property damage. The CPUC also proposed fines associated with PG&E’s alleged failure adequately to maintain its gas facilities and to maintain records over several decades.
In four separate opinions, the ALJs found that PG&E committed 3,708 violations of various provisions the Code of Federal Regulations.  According to the ALJs’ orders, many of these violations occurred over a number of years, for a total of 18,447,805 days in violation. The $1.4 billion penalty, plus other amounts that the CPUC previously ruled must come from PG&E shareholders for expenditures to improve the safe operation of natural gas pipelines  brings the total of fines and required expenditures to more than $2 billion. PG&E has disclosed that the pre-tax impact of the fine on the Company, with related costs would be $4.75 billion.[
In addition to the civil penalties that have been proposed, PG&E has been accused in Federal indictments of criminal violations that would potentially expose the company to an additional $1.13 billion in fines if the company is convicted. The Company has pled not guilty to the criminal charges. A federal judge rejected PG&E’s motion  to remove reference to the San Bruno explosion from the criminal indictment against the company, ruling that the incident is a permissible count in  the government’s case.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a Pipeline Accident Report following the tragedy finding:
the probable cause of the accident was the Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) (1) inadequate quality assurance and quality control in 1956 during its Line 132 relocation project, which allowed the installation of a substandard and poorly welded pipe section with a visible seam weld flaw that, over time grew to a critical size, causing the pipeline to rupture during a pressure increase stemming from poorly planned electrical work at the Milpitas Terminal; and (2) inadequate pipeline integrity management program, which failed to detect and repair or remove the defective pipe section.
Contributing to the accident were the California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation's exemptions of existing pipelines from the regulatory requirement for pressure testing, which likely would have detected the installation defects. Also contributing to the accident was the CPUC's failure to detect the inadequacies of PG&E's pipeline integrity management program.
The ALJ’s penalty order found a staggering range for potential fines under California’s statutes:
[T]he range of potential fines that could be imposed in light of the violations is from $9.2 billion to $254.3 billion. Nonetheless, the amount of the penalty to be imposed must be significantly decreased in consideration of PG&E’s financial resources.
The ALJs’ fines and remedies order found that the CPUC is required by California law to remit any penalty portion of its order to the General Fund. PG&E argued that such a result is only necessary resulting from a civil action in state Court.  (Martens Law)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

U.S. Fuel Economy Reaches All-Time High

New vehicles achieved an all-time-high fuel economy in 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency announced today. Model year 2013 vehicles achieved an average of 24.1 miles per gallon (mpg) ‑-- a 0.5 mpg increase over the previous year and an increase of nearly 5 mpg since 2004.

The average carbon dioxide emissions are also at a record low of 369 grams per mile in model year 2013.

EPA’s annual “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2014” report tracks average fuel economy of new cars and SUVs sold in the United States. The report also ranks automakers’ achievements in model year 2013.

Some additional top-line findings from the report:

  • The recent fuel economy improvement is a result of automakers' rapid adoption of more efficient technologies such as gasoline direct injection engines, turbochargers, and advanced transmissions.
  • Mazda vehicles averaged the highest fuel economy and lowest greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Nissan achieved the greatest improvement in average fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions.
  • SUVs achieved the greatest improvement in all classes of new personal vehicles.
The EPA estimates these standards will save American families more than $8,000 in fuel costs per vehicle by 2025.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

China and India Put Economy Before Climate Change

Indian leaders did not attend the climate meetings at the UN in New York last week, but they did push back on President Obama’s plea for “every country” to help cut carbon pollution. Late last week, India’s environment minister told the media his nation’s top priority is boosting the economy and relieving poverty, not climate change.  Prakash Javadekar said India won’t offer a CO2-reduction plan before next year’s climate talks in Paris, and that any actions the country takes would just lower the rate of increase in carbon emissions for at least the next 30 years.
 
Javadejar said 20% of the Indian population doesn’t have access to electricity, and that’s their top priority. He added: “We will grow faster, and our emissions will rise.” Javadekar also pushed the need for action back on developed countries. He said the US and others have had more than a century to burn fossil fuels and that the “moral principle of historic responsibility cannot be washed away.”
The docket maintained by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) now contains a white paper produced by the delegation from China that raises some interesting points about Chinese positions on carbon regulation.
 
Seeming to reject the Obama Administration’s leadership on climate, the paper explicitly makes China’s commitment “dependent on the adequate finance and technology support provided by developed country parties” and insists that cash payments from the West come from “new, additional, adequate, predictable and sustained public funds". It regards the current commitment of $100 billion from Western nations as only a “starting point” and calls for elimination of intellectual property claims regarding green technologies developed in the US and elsewhere.  (Frank Maisano)
 

Department of the Interior Releases Desert Renwables Plan

The Department of the Interior released a draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) last week. The plan is a landscape-scale blueprint that is the result of an extensive public participation process, which included collaboration among the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and other stakeholders.

The public will have until January 2015 to provide additional comments on the draft plan, which includes lands in Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

The draft DRECP proposes to protect areas in the California desert important for wildlife, recreation and other uses while streamlining permitting in areas appropriate for siting of solar, wind and geothermal energy projects and associated transmission. The plan presents six alternative approaches for meeting renewable energy and conservation goals through 2040. Each alternative proposes a different conservation design and configuration of lands available for streamlined renewable energy permitting.

The plan also includes an analysis of the potential environmental impacts of these alternatives. The draft plan has three key components that support the goals of the DRECP including:
1) the BLM’s Land Use Plan Amendments would designate renewable energy development areas and promote conservation of wildlife, cultural, and recreational values in other areas, including by expanding National Conservation Lands, across the 10 million acres of public lands in the planning area;

2) the FWS’s General Conservation Plan would allow the FWS to streamline the permitting process for renewable energy applicants on non-federal lands that agree to comply with the terms and conditions of the General Conservation Plan; and

3) CDFW’s Natural Community Conservation Plan would identify and provide for the regional or area-wide protection of plants, animals, and their habitats, while allowing compatible and appropriate economic activity.  (Frank Maisano, DRECP)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Aviation and Climate Change

Aviation emissions are small compared with emissions from road transport and electricity generation, but are potentially large compared with other sectors. In 2010, emissions from aviation were about 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (slightly more than half being international), compared to 17 percent for road transport and 35 percent for electricity.

Even with a growth rate of around 3 percent per year, forecasts suggest these emissions would be perhaps 5 percent of global emissions by 2050. After electricity and road transport, however, one quickly reaches sectors that are emitting only 5 percent of total emissions (e.g., petroleum refining is about 5 percent).


A key question for market-based programs is either how to allocate allowances in a cap-and-trade program or how to spend revenue under a levy. Giving out allowances to airlines for free in a competitive industry like aviation is likely to generate windfall profits, as occurred in deregulated power markets in the EU ETS. Auctioned allowances and levies will raise revenue for the government that could be used to reduce other taxes. (The Hill, 9/26/2014, Billy Pizer)

District Department of the Environment Approves First Stormwater Retention Credit Trade

The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) has approved a trade of 11,013 Stormwater Retention Credits (SRCs). This trade, valued at $25,000, is the first in the nascent SRC trading program, which is the first of its kind in the nation.

The Center operates a clearinghouse, the Stormwater Credit Exchange (SCE), to promote the DDOE's Stormwater Retention Credits Program.

The trade demonstrates how the SRC market can provide meaningful financial returns for voluntary installations of green infrastructure that reduce harmful stormwater runoff.

Under the District’s current stormwater management regulations, development projects permitted after January 2014 must meet river-protecting stormwater retention standards and can meet a portion of this requirement by using SRCs. Projects using SRCs must own them by the end of construction, which typically takes a year or longer.

The SRC market is expected to grow as additional regulated projects are completed. Trades provide a strong incentive for voluntary installations of green infrastructure.
Revenue from this trade will help cover the costs of designing, installing, and maintaining the rain gardens that generated the SRCs.

In addition to providing compliance flexibility for regulated development, SRC trading can increase the total volume of stormwater runoff being kept out of District waterbodies and provide other sustainability benefits, such as reducing the urban heat island effect and providing green jobs. (DDOE)

For more information, visit www.ddoe.dc.gov/src. For information about the regulatory requirements for retaining stormwater, triggered by certain types of construction projects, see www.ddoe.dc.gov/swregs.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Obama Seeks $900 Million For Land & Water Conservation Fund

The Obama administration is pushing Congress to triple the amount of money available for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which officials use to acquire land, build recreation facilities and maintain parks. The program is likely to be renewed before it expires next year, but President Obama’s push for a funding increase is meeting resistance.

House Republicans say the additional funding would be wasteful and allow the federal government to unnecessarily snatch up more private and state land.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has led the administration’s promotional efforts for the fund, touring the country, joined at times by agency leaders, other federal officials, lawmakers, state or local officials.

In addition to renewing the 50-year-old program, Jewell wants access to the full $900 million annual budget it is supposed to have. Revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling deposits $900 million into the fund every year, but congressional appropriators have only given Interior and the Forest Service one-third of that, amounting to $305.5 million in fiscal 2014.

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have signed onto a bill with 40 Democrats that would renew the fund indefinitely and give federal officials access to the full $900 million.  Even though Graham and Burr are the only Republican supporters of the measure, Graham said it’s something conservatives can get behind. (The Hill, 9/25/2014)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

President Obama Climate Change Speech at the United Nations



President Obama on Tuesday delivered a climate change speech at the United Nations, telling 125 leaders that they are “the last generation” with the power to prevent a global catastrophe.

The White House Blog Coverage

Excerpts:

“No nation is immune,”

“We cannot condemn our children and their children to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair,” Obama said. “Not when we have the means and the technological innovation and scientific imagination to begin repairing it right now.”

“We recognize our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to combat it.”

“It must be ambitious,” Obama said of a prospective deal. “It must be inclusive because every country must play its part, and yes it must be flexible because different nations have different circumstances.”

He reiterated the U.S. target to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, and said new post-2020 targets for cutting emissions would be announced early next year.

The administration has acknowledged that it will not be able to agree to a new, legally binding U.N. treaty on climate change, given opposition in Congress. As a result, there has been talk at the U.N., which Obama alluded to on Tuesday, of an agreement to reduce carbon emissions through public, voluntary commitments.

Poor countries have been hesitant to set high targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, citing the cost to their economies and the potential for reducing growth.

The president used the speech to unveil a new set of tools that the U.S. will provide to vulnerable countries to help them bulk up their defenses against devastating weather conditions brought about by global warming. The assistance will include scientific data and advanced technology — though Obama did not commit any U.S. dollars to a fund meant to help poor countries.

Obama would need congressional “buy-in” to provide money for a fund meant to help developing countries protect themselves from rising tides and other effects of global warming, and to get them to move to renewable energy.

The fund was first announced in 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen. France, South Korea, Denmark and Mexico were among the nations to commit money to the fund on Tuesday. The United States did not.

Obama highlighted rules he’s proposed for existing power plants that are expected to cut emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

The power plant rules have been a major issue in congressional races around the country, where Republicans have sought to leverage anger with Obama to win back the Senate’s majority.

Obama described the power plant rules as the single biggest step the United States has taken to combat greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

Obama also signed a new executive order on Tuesday that directs every federal agency to consider climate resilience to drought, wildfires, floods and other extreme weather when crafting international development programs and investing overseas.

Obama attended the summit with two of his top climate deputies, Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy and senior White House adviser John Podesta, who helped trumpet the president’s climate agenda.  (The Hill, 9/23/2014)

Monday, September 22, 2014

EPA Announces Grant Opportunities to Reduce Diesel Emissions at Ports

Today, EPA announced the availability of up to $5 million in grant funding to establish clean diesel projects aimed at reducing emissions from marine and inland water ports located in areas of poor air quality.

Older diesel engines emit large amounts of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOX) and particulate matter (PM). These pollutants are linked to a range of serious health problems including asthma, lung and heart disease, and other respiratory ailments. Most of the country’s busiest ports are located near large metropolitan areas and, as a result, people in neighboring communities are exposed to high levels of diesel emissions. Since most ships and equipment at ports run on diesel engines, clean diesel projects at ports will produce immediate emissions reductions and provide health benefits to those living and working in the area.

This is the second grant competition to focus on reducing emissions at ports under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA). Under this competition, EPA anticipates awarding between two and five assistance agreements. Applicants may request up to $2 million in funding toward eligible projects. Port authorities, governmental or quasi-governmental public agencies that operate ports, and state and local governments with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality are eligible to apply. Community groups, terminal operators, shipping carriers, and other related entities are encouraged to participate through partnerships with eligible applicants. Projects may include drayage trucks, marine engines, locomotives, and cargo handling equipment at marine or inland water ports. Funding is limited to projects at ports located in areas of poor air quality, as determined by the Administrator.  (EPA)

The list of eligible areas for this RFP

All proposals must be received by December 11, 2014. For more information and to access the Request for Proposals and other documents.  

People's Climate March



 
Biggest Climate Change Demonstration In History
 

 


On Sunday, the People's Climate March, which included a crowd estimated by organizers at more than 300,000, marched through central Manhattan in the biggest climate-related demonstration ever held. The massive rally, which was mirrored by smaller protests in other cities around the globe, drew not only environmental activists but also college students, labor groups, A-list Hollywood celebrities such as actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, and politicians including former Vice President Al Gore and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D).  Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York has committed the city to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 (his announcement).

World leaders are at the United Nations this week, at the invitation of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to “champion an ambitious vision anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement” on climate change next year.

On Sunday in New York City, the marchers gave a message of alarm to world leaders set to gather this week at the United Nations for a summit meeting on climate change.
They marched through Midtown, from Columbus Circle to Times Square and the Far West Side, the People’s Climate March.  It was joined, in solidarity, by demonstrations on Sunday across the globe, from Paris to Papua New Guinea.
 
Like the march, the summit meeting on Tuesday at the United Nations will be flush with speeches intended to build support for addressing climate change. But the gathering of world leaders is not meant to be a formal negotiating session for a potential 2015 agreement.


(Wash Post, 9/21/2014, NYT, 9/21/2014, NYT, 9/21/2014)

Obama To Address United Nations Climate Change Summit

President Obama addresses 125 heads of state at a United Nations climate change summit on Tuesday, Sept 23, where he wants to lay the groundwork for a global accord on greenhouse gas emissions.  Obama will call on global leaders to "step up to the plate and raise their level of ambition" when considering actions to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This should be interesting considering that America is doing basically nothing to address global warming.
McCarthy, Obama, Podesta
President Obama will be accompanied by White House adviser John Podesta, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and the State Department's climate envoy Todd Stern.   Everything points to Paris 2015 for the White House, where countries will work to sign a global climate change treaty that would set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 
A number of world leaders will be absent from the event, however, notably Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The administration says it isn't concerned that the leaders of the No. 1 and No. 3 emitters of greenhouse gases in the world — China and India, respectively — will be absent from the summit because both countries will represented by high-ranking officials.
The Obama administration rolled out more executive actions related to climate change.  The proposed standards would mandate that the nation's fleet of existing power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. While Obama will be playing up those rules at the summit.  Such rules can be easily reversed by the next president.
Last week, the administration unveiled voluntary commitments from refrigerant companies and food retailers to phase out the use of a popular coolant, and hydrofluorocarbons, which are 10,000 times more potent than carbon.

Obama also took executive actions to boost renewable energy and efficiency projects in rural areas, and launched a job program that will train 50,000 people, including veterans, as solar panel installers.  (The Hill, 9/22/2014)