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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)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

EPA Phasing Out Chemical Coolant R-134a (Freon) Hydrofluorocarbons

Today the Obama administration announced new steps to curb emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning. Administrator McCarthy announced additional EPA actions to reduce HFC emissions and encouraged private sector investment in HFC-free technology.

EPA announced three new actions that will help support a smooth transition to climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs, including:
  • listing additional fluorinated and non-fluorinated chemicals as acceptable alternatives in a variety of industry applications;
  • identifying refrigerant management options to reduce HFC emissions from air conditioning and refrigeration equipment; and
  • organizing with stakeholder engagement a series of sector-specific workshops on seeking transitions away from high global warming potential HFCs.
The effort includes a series of voluntary commitments by some of the country’s largest chemical firms and retailers to move rapidly away from R-134a and similar compounds used in nearly every office, home and automobile in the country. 

The class of chemicals to which R-134a belongs — called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — became popular as a replacement for Freon, the refrigerant banned since the 1990s for damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. Most HFCs are harmless to ozone, but collectively they have become a significant driver of climate change — some are up to 10,000 times as potent per ounce as carbon dioxide, climate scientists say.



The new efforts build upon progress and commitments already made under EPA’s GreenChill partnership, which works with the supermarket industry to transition to climate-friendly refrigerants, reduce the amount of refrigerant used, and eliminate harmful refrigerant leaks. If supermarkets nationwide reduce refrigerant leaks to the current GreenChill Partner average of 12.4 percent, they could generate annual cost savings of over $100 million across the industry while preventing the annual emission of about 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2eq), which is equal to emissions from the generation of electricity use by more than 3.7 million homes annually.

At the roundtable gathering, GreenChill Partners Target and Hillphoenix announced new commitments and technologies to curb potent greenhouse gases. Target announced that it is expanding its use of HFC-free refrigeration systems, partnering with chemical producers to test the next generation of climate-friendly refrigerants, and working with a beverage cooler manufacturer to test HFC-free solutions this fall. Hillphoenix announced that it is commercializing a new, more energy efficient, HFC-free CO2 booster system, and introducing an HFC-free hydrocarbon self-contained door case. Kroger and Port Townsend Food Co-op of Port Townsend, Wash., also announced that they joined EPA’s GreenChill Partnership.  (EPA, Wash Post, 9/16/2014)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Virginia Governor McAuliffe Supports Gas Pipeline Proposal

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), left, on Tuesday unveiled plans for a 550-mile natural gas pipeline through three states. A consortium of companies led by Dominion Resources will spend up to $5 billion to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, which supporters said will initially create 8,800 jobs.  Dominion Resources, EVP Distribution Operations, AGL Resources and Virginia Natural Gas will jointly build the pipeline.

The Center supports the proposal.

McAuliffe and other supporters of the Virginia pipeline said the infrastructure improvement will prevent spikes in energy bills during severe weather, lure heavy manufacturing to the state and give Virginia what McAuliffe called “direct access to the most affordable natural gas supply in the United States.”

As proposed, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would bring natural gas to growing markets in Virginia and North Carolina. It would run through more than a dozen counties in Virginia, cutting a rural swath from Highland County in the northwest down through some of the most populous counties of Hampton Roads in the southeast. Proponents say the pipeline will allow Dominion, who has coal plants that are 50, 60 years old, which they plan on shutting down — to reduce emissions.

To reconcile the environmental concerns with the energy industry proposal, the governor believes policy trumps politics. He said the project will create thousands of jobs, reduce energy costs for Virginians and speed the closing of aging coal plants.labor leaders agree.

After the six-year construction phase, it is estimated that about 217 jobs will be necessary to maintain the pipeline. It is estimated to generate $14.6 million annually in tax revenue for the state. No state money will be used.  (Wash Post, 9/2/2014)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

NRC Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Rule

On Tuesday, August 26, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved a generic environmental impact statement that clears the way for storing spent nuclear fuel for a hundred years or more (NRC Ruling). New nuclear power plants can now be built without waiting for a final nuclear waste repository to be built (Matt Wald – NYTimes).   The Center supported the rule.

The rulemaking was in response to a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals that struck down the NRC Waste Confidence Decision, which stated:

- “reasonable assurance exists that sufficient geologic repository capacity will be available for disposal of…spent nuclear fuel when necessary”, and
- “reasonable assurance exists that…spent fuel can be stored safely without significant environmental impacts…in spent fuel pools and…dry cask storage systems.”

As a result of this court ruling, the NRC decided to stop all nuclear licensing activities (CLI-12-016) while it developed a Waste Confidence Generic Environmental Impact Statement that would address these issues, even the possibility that a permanent geologic repository might never be built. This generic EIS would not have to be redone over and over for every site or every license.

Norris McDonald at spent fuel reprocessing facility in France

The French reprocess and reuse their spent nuclear fule.  America should do the same.  This should be done at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Nuclear power plants in the United States have safely stored spent nuclear fuel for decades in spent fuel pools of water and, later, in concrete dry casks. There has never been a problem. But the centerpiece of our nuclear waste program has always been the idea of a deep geologic repository as the final resting place for nuclear waste.

Therefore, when the Yucca Mountain deep geologic repository project was essentially canned in 2009 (killed for similar political reasons it was born from), it was a blow to the country’s confidence in our ability to handle our spent nuclear fuel. We had never thought about storing this stuff forever.

Dry cask storage behind secure fencing.

The GEIS examined land use, air and water quality, historic and cultural resources over three timeframes: 60 years (short-term), 100 years after the short-term scenario (long-term) and indefinitely. It also analyzed spent fuel pool leaks and fires.
So Tuesday’s approval by the NRC of this new rule on the environmental effects of long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel was enormously important. It restores the confidence that was called into question and let’s new nuclear builds and activities to go forward, once the final rule becomes effective, 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
The waste confidence issue has practical and economic ramifications. If the NRC, the agency that regulates the commercial nuclear industry, does not feel confident that the industry can take care of its waste, then they will not issue any new licenses to build any new nuclear power plants, disposal sites or any other nuclear facilities, and will not extend licenses for existing power plants.

Norris McDonald (right) at Spent Fuel Pool
Wet storage of spent nuclear fuel in pools of water. When spent fuel is removed from the reactor it requires about five years in water to cool off and allow the short-lived really hot radionuclides to decay away completely. It can then transferred to dry cask storage (below) until needed, e.g., burned in Generation IV or V fast reactors in the near-future, or just disposed of in a deep geologic repository. It is safe in Dry Cask for over a hundred years while the fuel cools off.

This ruling recognizes storing spent fuel for long periods in dry casks is safe and cheap. Dry casks completely contain all radiation. They effortlessly manage the heat. And they prevent nuclear fission (see figure). The casks resist earthquakes, projectiles, tornadoes, floods, temperature extremes and any other event we can think of, including tsunamis (NRC Casks).

Cooling in the casks is passive, and the heat coming off of a loaded spent fuel cask is less than that given off by the average home-heating system. The heat and radioactivity simply decrease over time without the need of fans or pumps, or any action on our part. The only operational cost is the constant monitoring on the casks.

The United States has about 80,000 tons each of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from commercial nuclear power plants making electricity, and high-level nuclear waste (HLW) from making nuclear weapons. SNF from reactors is in a solid form that is easily handled and easily stored in dry casks once it is removed from the cooling pools after about five years. HLW is in different liquid, sludge and solid forms in various containments at Department of Energy facilities and has nothing to do with commercial SNF.

Norris McDonald at Yucca Mountain

The best things you can do with spent nuclear fuel is let it sit for a hundred years. A hundred years is a few half-lives of the two bad players – the uranium fission products cesium-137 and strontium-90. Each of these nuclides has a 30-year half-life, so after 100 years, 90% of each will have decayed away, and the waste will be much, much cooler and easier to handle, no matter what you end up doing with it.

If you end up burning old spent fuel in new GenIV fast reactors, like General Atomics’ EM2 reactor, or the reactor Bill Gates is building (TerraPower), you get ten times more energy out of the fuel as you get from the first round of burning. And the new waste is radioactive for a much shorter time. If you end up just throwing the spent fuel away, it’s still relatively cool and the disposal is easier and cheaper.

This new rule does not itself license or permit nuclear power plants to store spent fuel for any length of time, but it was necessary to allow these licenses to go forward under separate actions.

Ironically, this final rule was renamed, from Waste Confidence to Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel. This name that more accurately reflects the nature of the ruling and is more understandable. (Forbes, 8/29/2014)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Rail Deliveries of U.S. Oil Continue to Increase in 2014


Graph of average weekly U.S. rail carloads of crude oil and petroleum products, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Association of American Railroads
Note: Values in graph represent monthly averages of weekly rail carloadings.


The amount of crude oil and refined petroleum products moved by U.S. railroads increased 9% during the first seven months of this year compared with the same period in 2013. In July, monthly average carloadings of oil and petroleum products were near 16,000 carloads per week, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The increase in oil volumes transported by rail reflects rising U.S. crude oil production, which reached an estimated 8.5 million barrels per day in June for the first time since July 1986.

AAR estimates that more than half of the nearly 460,000 carloads tracked in its petroleum and petroleum products category from January through July consisted of crude oil, up from around 3% in 2009. With the average rail tank car holding around 700 barrels of crude oil, about 759,000 barrels of crude oil per day were moved by rail during the first seven months of 2014, equal to 8% of U.S. oil production.

Graph of U.S. monthly crude production, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook and Petroleum Supply Monthly
Note: June and July oil production estimated from EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook.


The Bakken Shale, primarily in North Dakota, has provided a significant share of the total increase in U.S. oil production over the past three years. North Dakota, now the second-largest oil producing state, provides nearly one out of every eight barrels of oil produced in the United States. Between 60% and 70% of the more than 1 million barrels per day of oil produced in the state has been transported to refineries by rail each month in the first half of 2014, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

In the future, proposed rules published in August by the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the safety of tank cars will affect how crude oil is moved by rail, particularly trains that carry 20 or more carloads of oil. The proposed rules would require new oil tank cars constructed after October 2015 to have thicker steel and require retrofitting of existing tank cars. Voluntary actions by railroads in anticipation of the new rules have resulted in reduced speeds and increased inspections. (DOE-EIA)

Obama Administration Appliance Efficiency Standards

The Obama administration is working on new efficiency standards for seemingly every appliance but the kitchen sink.  The Department of Energy (DOE) is drafting new standards for refrigerators, dishwashers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, furnaces, boilers, water heaters, lamps and many more appliances.  The administration says the standards will not only help the planet but also stimulate the economy by saving consumers money on their energy bills that they can spend elsewhere.

The Energy Department has already finalized new efficiency standards for seven appliances in 2014, with another three rules expected by the end of the year. That compares to two rules in 2013 and three in 2012.  DOE believes the rules will save consumers $49 billion by 2030.

The standards will lead to more expensive appliances but say consumers will save money in the long run on their energy bills.  The standards also provide a opportunity to save consumers money.  The new efficiency standards will save wealthy consumers money in the long run, because they can afford to pay the higher costs for new household appliances.  Lower-income consumers will have a tough time paying for the more expensive appliances, and are likely to keep using older ones.

While many of the efficiency rules target household appliances, others focus on business appliances, such as commercial ice-makers, commercial refrigerators and walk-in coolers and freezers.  The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute is challenging the later two rules in federal court.

The push for tougher efficiency standards was initially ushered in with the 2009 stimulus bill, which included $16.8 billion for the Energy Department to promote efficiency.  (The Hill, 8/29/2014)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New England Relies on Natural Gas & Hydro from Canada


graph of New England electricity generation and net imports and New England electricity net trade by source, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, from ISO New England


Electric operators in New England have been both generating more electricity from natural gas and importing more hydroelectric generation from Quebec over the past decade. These two sources of electricity are displacing the use of coal and oil as generation fuels in New England.
 
Recent and planned closures of large power plants may cause the independent system operator for New England (ISO-NE) to continue to rely on an increasing amount of hydropower from Quebec. The 745-megawatt (MW) coal- and oil-fueled Salem Harbor Power Station ceased operation on June 1. Pending shutdowns include the 605-MW Vermont Yankee nuclear facility, expected to be shut down at the end of 2014, and the 1,520-MW Brayton Point coal- and natural gas/oil-fired power plant, expected to be shut down in 2017. To make up for the loss of these generators, northeastern utilities and Hydro-Quebec have proposed constructing several transmission lines, including the 1,200-MW Northern Pass, to increase transmission of electricity from Canada. Hydro-Quebec has more than 36,000 MW of installed hydroelectric capacity and has been exporting electricity to New England and New York since the 1980s.

New England states have several reasons to further limit their use of electricity generated from fossil fuels. Constraints on some of the pipelines delivering natural gas into New England have contributed to higher natural gas prices and made electricity relatively more expensive. Also, all New England states have renewable portfolio standards (or in Vermont, a nonbinding goal) requiring that a certain percentage of their electricity comes from renewable sources. Goals and qualifying renewable sources differ by state. For instance, Rhode Island's goal is 16% renewable electricity by 2020 and New Hampshire's is 24.8% by 2025; both states have limits on the size of hydroelectric facilities whose generation qualifies.

Several New England states also have energy efficiency resource standards or goals, which act like renewable portfolio standards, but are for implementing energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is among the reasons for relatively little change in total system demand over the past decade in New England, despite 3% growth in total population from 2004 to 2012.

Finally, New England states are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based regulatory program that places a cap on carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. The cap is reduced over time, encouraging states to generate more of their electricity using low- or zero-carbon sources. (DOE-EIA)

NRC Approves Nuclear Waste Confidence Rule(s)

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) met today in an Affirmation Session and voted to approve a Nuclear Waste Confidence Rule that allows nuclear companies to continue to store nuclear waste on site until a national repository can be contructed.  NRC also lifted the moratorium on licensing nuclear power plants.

Affirmation Session

a. Final Rule :Continued Storage Spent Nuclear Fuel (RIN 3150-AJ20) 

The Commission approved a final rule and its associated generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) amending 10 CFR Part 51 to revise the generic determination on the environmental impacts of continued storage of spent nuclear fuel beyond the licensed life for operation of a reactor, with the changes in attachment 5.

In implementing the published GEIS findings into site-specific environmental analyses, the staff should utilize approaches that are transparent to the public on how these impact ranges are considered for each specific site.

b. Direct Final Rule: SGI–Modified Handing Categorization Materials Facilities (RIN 3150-AJ18)

The Commission approved a direct final rule and the companion proposed rule amending 10 CFR Parts 30, 37, 73, and 150 to remove the Safeguards Information – Modified Handling (SGIM) designation of the security-related information for large irradiators, manufacturers and distributors, and for transport of category 1 quantities of radioactive material, with the changes in attachments 1 and 2. Storage Spent Nuclear Fuel–Memo & Order Final Licensing Decisions & Pending Contentions

c. Continued Storage Spent Nuclear Fuel–Memo & Order Final Licensing Decisions & Pending Contentions

The Commission approved a Memorandum and Order lifting the suspension on final licensing decisions that the Commission imposed in CLI-12-16 as of the effective date of the Continued Storage Rule, and providing direction with respect to “continued storage” contentions that are currently held in abeyance in twenty-one adjudications before the Commission and the Atomic Safety and Licensing Boards. (Subsequently, on August 26, 2014, the Secretary signed the Memorandum and Order.)

d. Direct Final Rule: Adding Shine Medical Technologies, Inc.'s Accelerator-Driven Subcritical Operating Assembly to the Definition of Utilization Facility

The Commission approved a direct final rule and companion proposed rule amending 10 CFR Part 50.2 to add SHINE Medical Technologies, Inc.’s (SHINE) proposed accelerator-driven subcritical operating assemblies to the definition of a “utilization facility,” subject to the changes in attachments 3 and 4. This rule will allow the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff to conduct an efficient and effective licensing review of the SHINE construction permit application and subsequent operating license application under 10 CFR Part 50, “Domestic Licensing of Production and Utilization Facilities.”  

Attachment 5 highlights:

As noted in the GEIS, the former “Findings” were outputs of previous Waste Confidence proceedings, which included an environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact. In contrast, the current GEIS provides a detailed analysis under NEPA and provides an analysis of specific impacts.’

...the Commission has concluded in this GEIS that deep geologic disposal remains technically feasible.

This analysis does not constitute an endorsement of an extended timeframe for onsite storage of spent fuel as the appropriate long-term solution for disposition of spent fuel and high-level waste.’

...does not imply that spent fuel cannot be stored safely. To the contrary, the analysis documented in the GEIS is predicated on the ability to store spent fuel safely over the short-term, long-term, and indefinite timeframes. (NRC)

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Days before the Affirmation Session, several environmental groups attempted to delay the meeting until after NRC Commissioner Willim (Bill) Magwood in a futile attempt to garner enough votes to defeat the approve of the rule.  Commissioner Magwood's last day at NRC is August 31, when he leaves to head the Nuclear Energy Agency.

The Center supported holding the meeting during its August 26 assigned time and supported approval of the Waste Confidence Rule.

Friday, August 22, 2014

NRC Should Vote On Nuclear Waste Conficence Rule on August 26

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should not postpone its August 26 vote on the proposed rule on long-term nuclear-waste storage and its plan to lift a hold on reactor licensing that the commission approved two years ago. 

Commissioner William Magwood should not be an issue regarding the timing of the vote.  He is an NRC commissioner in good standing and has served as an honorable public servant for many years.  We wish Mr. Magwood well as he leaves the NRC to become director of the non-government Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) on Aug. 31.

Bill Magwood
Mr. Magwood in no way represents a conflict of interest because of his new position with NEA.  Mr. Magwood is still employed with the NRC and is perfectfly capable of performing his professional duties as a seasoned commissioner of the agency.  Mr. Magwood has participated in all of the proceedings and information related to the Waste Confidence rulemaking.  To postpone the vote until after he is gone from the agency will rob the public of his experience and background regarding these vitally important issues.

This is a very important vote and opponents should not assume which way Mr. Magwood is going to vote.  Nobody knows how Mr. Magwood will vote but his experience is very important regarding the issue of long-term storage and disposal of spent reactor fuel. (Wash Post, 8/21/2014)



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dominion Wildlife & Habitat Protection

Biodiversity & Habitat Protection


The protection of species and habitats on the lands, rights-of-way, and waterways around Dominion's facilities is an integral part of Dominion’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship.
 

Some examples of their ecosystem conservation initiatives and partnerships include the following:

 
  • Cove Point Beach Restoration. In cooperation with various regulatory, environmental and community groups, Dominion helped rebuild a buffer zone separating the Chesapeake Bay and a freshwater marsh using native grasses and plants. (See related video).

  • The Center for Conservation Biology Partnership. With the bald eagle population in Virginia steadily growing, the competition for nesting sites and resources is also increasing. One such nesting site is located on a Dominion transmission structure in central Virginia. With Dominion’s assistance, the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary is studying this nest using video recording equipment installed by Dominion employees. Monitoring of the nest will improve understanding of bald eagle behavior and population dynamics in Virginia.

  • Roanoke River Fish Restoration. Dominion is involved in a long term study of “diadromous” fish populations in the Roanoke River, North Carolina. Diadromous fish, such as American shad and striped bass, generally live in the ocean and return to freshwater rivers to spawn; or like American eels, they live in rivers and migrate to the ocean to spawn. As the owner of a hydroelectric dam on the Roanoke River, Dominion works with state and federal agencies to assess and implement programs designed to support these fish populations.
 

Show Content Avian and Wildlife Protection

Show Content Wildlife Preservation

Show Content Rare Plant Protection

Show Content Land Conservation

Show Content Partnerships

  

(Dominion)