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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Scana Corp Gets NRC Green Light For New Nuclear Reactors

Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Station
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 Friday to approve power company Scana Corporation's  proposal to build two nuclear reactors in South Carolina at a cost of $11 billion.  This is the second such approval in two months after a drought that lasted more than 30 years.

Two Southern Company reactors in Georgia also received the NRC's blessing last month. The Georgia reactors will be built at the Plant Vogtle site.

Chairman Gregory Jaczko was the lone dissenting vote.  He believes the commission should have required compliance with any changes the agency adopts in light of Japan's 2011 nuclear accident.
The two reactors are to be built by Scana unit South Carolina Electric & Gas and state-owned utility Santee Cooper. The reactors will serve customers of both utilities. The license approved Friday clears the way for construction of the two reactors, which will sit next to an existing unit at the Virgil C. Summer nuclear station in Jenkinsville, S.C.

Scana said it would complete one 1,117-megawatt unit in 2017 and another of the same size the following year. The reactors are designed by Toshiba Corporation unit Westinghouse Electric Company

Both the Scana and Southern power plants will operate in regulated markets, where state boards that support the nuclear expansion will allow the companies to recover their costs on customers' electricity bills during construction of the facilities.  (WSJ, 3/30/2012)

Friday, March 30, 2012

EIA Projects Lower Coal Use By U.S. Power Sector in 2012



Coal consumption by the U.S. electric power sector in 2012 is expected to fall below 900 million short tons for the first time since 1996 as the electric industry increased its use of natural gas for power generation, EIA projected in its March Short-Term Energy Outlook.

Coal demand by the power sector is projected to decline by nearly 5% this year to about 884 million short tons, the lowest level since 1995. The decline in coal consumption reflects, in part, the continued switch by the electric industry to natural gas. Power sector demand for natural gas is expected to grow by almost 9% this year to a record high of 22.7 billion cubic feet per day. Coal use by the power sector is projected to rise slightly in 2013 but remain below the 2011 level.

As a result, the share of U.S. power generation fueled by natural gas is projected to rise from 24.8% in 2011 to 27.1% this year. Conversely, the share of electricity generation from coal is projected to drop from 42.2% to 40.4%.

These projections include the prices of natural gas and coal, as well as assumptions about temperatures, that are key drivers in the need for electric generation. If prices or temperatures differ significantly from those included in the projections, then the amount of electricity generated by coal and natural gas would likely be different from the projections shown in the STEO forecasts.

The power sector consumes about 92% of U.S. coal production. Other large users of coal are coking plants involved in the steelmaking process and industrial users such as cement and paper manufacturers. (EIA)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Compton-To-Catalina Program

Background



The Center for Environment, Commerce and Energy (Center) established a partnership with the Greater Union Baptist Church (GUBC) to operate an environmental tour called the “Compton To Catalina Program,” which will take students and other young people from Compton, California to Catalina Island.  The Center and the California Center for Economic Initiatives (CCFEI) are also partnering under the Compton To Catalina Program to expose Compton youth to boat repair and to provide technical training services.

The Center will be initiating its Compton-To-Catalina Program on Saturday, April 21, 2012, which is the day before Earth Day.  The program will begin with a press conference at the Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton, California.  Participants will then travel to Long Beach, California to board the Catalina Express to make the one hour trip to the island. Once on Santa Catalina Island, the participants will board the Nautilus to observe underwater life around the island.  Finally, participants will tour Southern California Edison's Pebbly Beach Generating Station, the island's primary electricity generation source.

The Compton To Catalina Program is being operated thanks to a grant from Southern California Edison.

The purpose of the program is to expose young people from Compton to the Pacific Ocean and an incredibly beautiful island. People take it for granted that the vast majority of these kids never get on the water and many people live their entire lives without directly experiencing the Pacific Ocean even though they live within five or ten miles of it. We believe that such early exposure to this environment could lead to a lifelong environmental stewardship ethic.

GUBC will recruit people to participate in the Compton To Catalina (CTC) Program.  The Center will make arrangements for the tours and facilitate educational experiences for the students.  Each tour will be a daylong affair that will include transportation to Long Beach, where the tours will originate.  Participants will have escorts at all times and activities on the island will be arranged to maximize the environmental experience.

We will utilize the services of Catalina Express.  Passengers on board Catalina Express can expect to arrive in Catalina in about an hour from Long Beach.  There are numerous activities available on Catalina Island, including: hiking, biking, camping, swimming, snorkeling, diving, sightseeing, dining, shopping or relaxing, to name a few.  Our main activity will be a Nautilus submarine ride to view submerged vegetation and fish species.

The Center, GUBC and CCFEI are providing important environmental and technical services to the youth of Compton, California.  This partnership will provide a rich environmental experience for participants.  We will engage as many churches, schools and other institutions as possible and we will also appeal to the greater Los Angeles community to support the program.  



Call us today if you are interested in supporting this program: 443-569-5102  or email us at cfece@msn.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Center Supports Rushern Baker Vegas-Style Venue at Nat'l Harbor

The Center supports Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) vision of a billion-dollar “high-end” casino at National Harbor. Baker believes it is a good way to generate jobs and draw gamblers from the District and Northern Virginia.  We do not see an environmental downside and our only hesitation was due to concern about the weaknesses of some people to abuse games of chance.

A bill that would allow a fullfledged casino in Prince George’s County and add Las Vegas-style table games at Maryland’s five other slots venues was approved Tuesday by the state Senate.  The Center supports the bill and we encourage the Maryland House to approve it.  The 35 to 11 vote sent the legislation to the House of Delegates.

National Harbor
The bill — which is expected to generate tens of millions of additional dollars in state and county tax revenue — would seek competitive bids for a facility in a western swath of Prince George’s.

The territory includes both National Harbor, the 300-acre mixed-use development on the banks of the Potomac River; and Rosecroft Raceway, the recently reopened harness racetrack in FortWashington.

Presumably, the 'high-end' casino would be located on the tract of land that runs parallel to the the Beltway at Indian Head Highway.

The Center was the only environmental group to support the original National Harbor development and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement.

Huge North Sea Well Gas Leak Could Take Months To Plug


A well operated by the French company Total is leaking natural gas in the British North Sea.  All 238 workers have been evacuated from Total's Elgin platform since it sprang a leak on Sunday. The leak has forced the evacuation of drilling platforms for miles around and plugging the leak could take months because of the danger of triggering a gas explosion.  The well may be spewing greenhouse gases equal in impact to the two biggest U.S. coal-fired power plants.

Natural gas is composed largely of methane, which is 21 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  Unlike the oil spilled from BP’s Macondowell in the Gulf ofMexico in 2010, the Total leak is primarily natural gas that dissipates in the air.  But the gas in the well is known as sour gas because it contains toxic, flammable hydrogen sulfide as well as gas liquids that have created small surface sheens.


Drilling a relief well, one possible solution, would be difficult because any rig would have to keep its distance from the gas leak. Total said the leak began Sunday after work was done on an old well linked to a production platform in the Elgin field, 150 miles east of Aberdeen. By Monday morning, the companyhad evacuated all 238 people from the platform.

Drilled in a little over 300 feet ofwater, theTotal well reached far below the ocean floor and the reservoir set records for high pressure conditions and high temperatures — about 190 degrees centigrade — when it was drilled in 2003.  The field was discovered in 1991. Total is being being careful to avoid igniting the gas. The worst accident in the North Sea took place in 1988, when 167 people died in an accident at the Piper Alpha oil platform (Wash Post, 3/28/2012)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

EPA Proposes Carbon Pollution Standard for Future Power Plants

Following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed a Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants.  The rulemaking proposed only concerns new generating units that will be built in the future, and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months.  The EPA rule, called the New Source Performance Standard, will be subject to public comment for at least a month before being finalized, but its backers said they were confident that the White House will usher it into law before Obama’s term ends.

Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies – and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow. Currently, there is no uniform national limit on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit. As a direct result of the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling, EPA in 2009 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.   

The proposed standards can be met by a range of power facilities burning different fossil fuels, including natural gas technologies that are already widespread, as well as coal with technologies to reduce carbon emissions. The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

The agency is seeking additional comment and information, including public hearings, and will take that input fully into account as it completes the rulemaking process. EPA’s comment period will be open for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. (EPA, Wash Post, 3/26/2012)

More information

Monday, March 26, 2012

California Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Enjoined

On December 29, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (Judge O’Neill) issued two rulings that struck down California’s low carbon fuel program and enjoined its further enforcement. At least some commentators believe California’s recently-adopted cap-and-trade rules under AB32 could be similarly enjoined if the same types of challenges are brought. Following is a summary of the decisions and an explanation of how the rulings in Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, et al. v Goldstene, et al. CV-F-09-2234 could be applied to the AB32 cap-and-trade program.

Background

Signing of Executive Order S-1-07. January 18th, 2007, Sacramento, California
California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard was announced on January 18th, 2007, through Executive Order S-1-07. The low carbon fuel standards (LCFS) applies to refiners, blenders and importers of petroleum fuels, and requires that the carbon intensity of all transportation fuels sold in California be reduced by 10 percent by 2020.

One of several programs under the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) implemented by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) was a low carbon fuels program intended to reduce the “carbon intensity” of motor fuels. Carbon intensity (CI) is a calculated number for specific categories of motor fuels and motor fuel substitutes (such as biofuels) that takes into account the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), including indirect emissions associated with production and transportation.

Summary of Decisions


Judge O’Neill’s decisions found that the LCFS program violates the interstate commerce clause of the United States constitution. The commerce clause is interpreted to bar states from imposing restrictions on commerce that adversely affect the ability of out-of-state persons to conduct business within another state. The judge’s analysis is important in assessing the potential implications for other AB32 programs, such as cap-and-trade.

The two tests applied to state regulation under the commerce clause are the strict scrutiny test and the balancing test. If a state law facially discriminates against out-of-state businesses, the strict scrutiny analysis assesses whether the law is necessary to achieve a valid state objective and is the least restrictive method of doing so. The balancing test applies if the state law is not facially discriminatory, but has an adverse effect on interstate commerce. Under a balancing test, the court would determine whether the burden imposed on interstate commerce is “outweighed” by the interests sought to be achieved by the state.

Judge O’Neill concluded that the LCFS program is facially discriminatory against out-of-state fuel substitutes because the scoring methodology for carbon intensity assigns a higher CI to Midwestern biofuels than it does to locally-produced fuels because of the distances involved in delivery and the heavier use of coal in Midwestern electricity production. The court found that the factors used to calculate CI are not related to in-state activities or fuel composition, but are related to behaviors outside of California. Judge O’Neill likened such regulation to an attempt to regulate activity (e.g., emissions of GHGs) in other states. The judge effectively found that the discriminatory effect of the program was the relevant factor, regardless of whether the regulatory methodology was superficially neutral.

After finding that the LCFS program facially discriminates against out-of-state biofuels, Judge O’Neill applied the strict scrutiny analysis. He found that the program was adopted to serve a legitimate state interest (reducing GHG emissions to combat global warming), but concluded that the state had not borne its burden of showing that the LCFS program was the least discriminatory program that would have served the purpose. He suggested, for example, that a tax or a fuel standard or efficiency standards could have been imposed to reduce GHG emissions from motor fuels. (UC Davis, Marten Law, 1/25/2012)

Unanimous Supreme Court Tells EPA Its Orders Can Be Appealed

 Chantelle and Mike Sackett
In a decision handed down on March 20, 2012, Justice Antonin Scalia found it easy to give Mike and Chantelle Sackett their day in court. Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court in the case of Sackett v. EPA, Justice Scalia said that the EPA could not find that the Sacketts had illegally filled wetlands on their property, order them to remove the fill, and then threaten them with penalties without allowing them to appeal the order.

U.S. Supreme Court 2012
In Sackett, the Supreme Court struck down EPA’s ban on “pre-enforcement review” under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), finding that an administrative compliance order issued by EPA is “final” for purposes of judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and that nothing in the CWA bars a party from filing suit to challenge such an order before EPA initiates a judicial enforcement action. While Sackett likely does not affect orders issued under CERCLA, which contains an explicit pre-enforcement bar, parties will almost certainly argue that Sackett allows pre-enforcement review under statutes without explicit pre-enforcement bars, such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”) and the Clean Air Act (“CAA”).

The decision raises a host of questions for environmental lawyers and their clients, both in the government and the regulated community. For example:

  • Will the Justice Department require a greater level of review of EPA orders, knowing it is more likely to have to defend them?
  • Does the Sackett decision apply retroactively to allow parties already complying with an enforcement order to now challenge that order?
  • Will parties currently in negotiation with EPA regarding compliance with an enforcement order now see benefit in appealing – or at least threatening to — in the hope of gaining a tactical advantage?
  • What kind of burden will the decision place on EPA and state agency personnel, who will likely now have to devote more resources to preparing for litigation?
  • Will filing an APA challenge succeed in tolling the accrual of penalties? If the challenge is unsuccessful, will penalties run from the date of the order or the date of final resolution of the challenge?
  • To what extent will state-level enforcement actions under delegated programs be impacted?
(Marten Law)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Judge Overturns EPA Ruling Against Arch Coal Mine

Spruce Mine
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., struck down the EPA's ruling and said the permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers "remains valid and in full force."  The federal judge said the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority in revoking a permit for an Arch Coal, Inc. surface mine that was to be the largest proposed mountaintop-removal coal mine in Appalachia. The process involves blasting the tops off mountains to gain access to coal seams while filling in valleys and streams with the overlying dirt and rock.

The decision is a setback for federal regulators in a case that has been closely watched by the mining industry and environmental groups opposed to a form of mining called mountaintop removal. The EPA revoked the permit for Arch's Spruce Mine No. 1 in rural Logan County, W.Va., in January 2011, arguing that the potential harm to streams and watershed areas surrounding the project could be significant. The permit had previously been issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007. It was the first time since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 that the EPA had canceled a water permit for a project after it was issued.

Judge Jackson sided with the company's argument that the EPA lacked the authority to modify or revoke the water permit. "The Court concludes that the statute does not give EPA the power to render a permit invalid once is has been issued by the Corps," Judge Jackson wrote.  (WSJ, 3/23/2012)

Governor Brown Announces $120 Million Settlement

To Fund Electric Car Charging Stations Across California
Issues Executive Order to Help Bring 1.5 Million Zero-Emission Vehicles Onto California’s Roads

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., left, joined with the California Public Utilities Commission to announce a $120 million dollar settlement with NRG Energy Inc. that will fund the construction of a statewide network of charging stations for zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), including at least 200 public fast-charging stations and another 10,000 plug-in units at 1,000 locations across the state. The settlement stems from California’s energy crisis.

The Governor also announced that he has signed an executive order laying the foundation for 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California’s roadways by 2025.

The settlement announced today resolves ten-year-old claims against a subsidiary of Dynegy Inc., then a co-owner with NRG of the portfolio of power generating plants currently owned by NRG in California, for costs of long-term power contracts signed in March 2001. NRG assumed full responsibility for resolving this matter in 2006 when NRG acquired Dynegy's 50% interest in the assets. One hundred million dollars from the settlement will fund the fast-charging stations and the installation of the plug-in units and electrical upgrades, at no cost to taxpayers. The remaining twenty million dollars will be directed to ratepayer relief. For more information on the settlement, please contact the CPUC.

The network of charging stations funded by the settlement will be installed in the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Los Angeles Basin and San Diego County. This new infrastructure network is a breakthrough in encouraging consumer adoption of electric vehicles and will contribute significantly to achieving California’s clean car goals.

In January, CARB voted to require the largest automakers to derive 15 percent, or about 1.4 million, of their annual California sales from electric vehicles and other zero or near-zero emissions vehicles by 2025.

The Executive Order issued today by the Governor sets the following targets:

• By 2015, all major cities in California will have adequate infrastructure and be “zero-emission vehicle ready”;

• By 2020, the state will have established adequate infrastructure to support 1 million zero-emission vehicles in California;

• By 2025, there will be 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road in California; and

• By 2050, virtually all personal transportation in the State will be based on zero-emission vehicles, and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector will be reduced by 80 percent below 1990 levels.

AB 32, the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, calls for a 30 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The goal of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 was set by an executive order signed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Last year, Governor Brown signed SB X1-2, which directed the California Air Resources Board to adopt regulations setting a 33 percent renewable energy target.

Copied below is the full text of the Governor’s Executive Order:


EXECUTIVE ORDER



WHEREAS California is the nation’s largest market for cars and light-duty trucks; and

WHEREAS the transportation sector is the biggest contributor to California’s greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for approximately 40 percent of these emissions; and

WHEREAS California should encourage the development and success of zero-emission vehicles to protect the environment, stimulate economic growth and improve the quality of life in the State; and

WHEREAS California is a leader of technological innovation, including the innovation necessary to produce commercially successful zero-emission vehicles; and

WHEREAS California attracts over half of the nation’s venture capital for clean technology and ranks high among the states in the number of workers and facilities supporting the clean-car industry; and

WHEREAS California is leading the nation in enacting laws and establishing policies and programs that are reducing greenhouse gases, protecting air and water quality, promoting energy diversity and supporting low-carbon alternative fuel technologies; and

WHEREAS zero-emission vehicles provide multiple benefits in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as reducing conventional pollutants, operating quietly and cleanly, allowing home refueling and lowering operating and fuel costs; and

WHEREAS California should support and encourage car manufacturers’ plans to build and sell tens of thousands of zero-emission vehicles in California in the coming years.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Edmund G. Brown Jr., Governor of the State of California, do hereby issue the following orders to become effective immediately:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that all State entities under my direction and control support and facilitate the rapid commercialization of zero-emission vehicles.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the California Air Resources Board, the California Energy Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and other relevant agencies work with the Plug-in Electric Vehicle Collaborative and the California Fuel Cell Partnership to establish benchmarks to help achieve by 2015:

• The State’s major metropolitan areas will be able to accommodate zero-emission vehicles, each with infrastructure plans and streamlined permitting; and
• The State’s manufacturing sector will be expanding zero-emission vehicle and component manufacturing; and
• The private sector’s investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure will be growing; and
• The State’s academic and research institutions will be contributing to zero-emission vehicle research, innovation and education.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that these entities establish benchmarks to help achieve by 2020:
• The State’s zero-emission vehicle infrastructure will be able to support up to one million vehicles; and
• The costs of zero-emission vehicles will be competitive with conventional combustion vehicles; and
• Zero-emission vehicles will be accessible to mainstream consumers; and
• There will be widespread use of zero-emission vehicles for public transportation and freight transport; and
• Transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions will be falling as a result of the switch to zero-emission vehicles; and
• Electric vehicle charging will be integrated into the electricity grid; and
• The private sector’s role in the supply chain for zero-emission vehicle component development and manufacturing State will be expanding.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that these entities establish benchmarks to help achieve by 2025:
• Over 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles will be on California roads and their market share will be expanding; and
• Californians will have easy access to zero-emission vehicle infrastructure; and
• The zero-emission vehicle industry will be a strong and sustainable part of California’s economy; and
• California’s clean, efficient vehicles will annually displace at least 1.5 billion gallons of petroleum fuels.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that California target for 2050 a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector equaling 80 percent less than 1990 levels.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that California's state vehicle fleet increase the number of its zero-emission vehicles through the normal course of fleet replacement so that at least 10 percent of fleet purchases of light-duty vehicles be zero-emission by 2015 and at least 25 percent of fleet purchases of light-duty vehicles be zero-emission by 2020. This directive shall not apply to vehicles that have special performance requirements necessary for the protection of the public safety and welfare.

This Order is not intended to, and does not, create any rights or benefits, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, against the State of California, its agencies, departments, entities, officers, employees, or any other person.

I FURTHER DIRECT that as soon as hereafter possible, this Order be filed in the Office of the Secretary of State and that widespread publicity and notice be given to this Order.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 23rd day of March 2012.


___________________________________
EDMUND G. BROWN JR.
Governor of California


ATTEST:


___________________________________
DEBRA BOWEN
Secretary of State

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lisa Jackson 2013 Budget Senate Hearing

Lisa P. Jackson
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson Testimony Before the U.S. Senate, Committee on Environment and Public Works

Excerpts

EPA's budget request of $8.344 billion focuses on fulfilling EPA's core mission of protecting public health and the environment, while making the sacrifices and tough decisions that Americans across the country are making every day.
Specifically, this budget proposes that $1.2 billion - nearly 15 percent of EPA's overall request - be allocated back to the states and tribes, through categorical grants. This includes funding for state and local air quality management grants, pollution control grants and the tribal general assistance program.

The budget also proposes that a combined $2 billion - another 25 percent of EPA's budget request - also goes directly to the states for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. This funding will help support efficient system wide investments and development of water infrastructure in our communities. We are working collaboratively to identify opportunities to fund green infrastructure - projects that can reduce pollution efficiently and less expensively than traditional grey infrastructure.
Taken together, the Administration’s standards for cars and light trucks are projected to result in $1.7 trillion dollars of fuel savings, and 12 billion fewer barrels of oil consumed. This funding will also help support implementation of the first ever carbon pollution and fuel economy standards for heavy duty trucks. (EPA)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Confirmation Hearing for John R. Norris & Anthony T. Clark

John R. Norris
The confirmation hearing was held on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 for John R. Norris and Anthony T. Clark before the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. This hearing was for the confirmation of the re-nomination of John R. Norris and for the nomination of Anthony T. Clark to be member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Testimony of John R. Norris

Commissioner Norris Bio

Testimony of Anthony Clark

EPA Retains Existing Secondary Standards for NOx & SOx

On March 20, 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took final action to retain the current secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and oxides of sulfur (SOx).

Based on its review of the currently available scientific information and the current secondary NAAQS for NOx and SOx, EPA is retaining the existing NOx and SOx secondary standards to address the direct effects on vegetation of exposure to gaseous oxides of nitrogen and sulfur in the air (e.g., decreased growth and foliar injury). The existing secondary standards are:

For NO: 0.053 ppm (parts per million) averaged over a year; and

For SO: 0.5 ppm averaged over three hours, not to be exceeded more than once per year.

This final rule recognizes that the existing secondary NOx and SOx standards do not provide adequate protection from these harmful deposition-related effects. While there is strong scientific support for developing a multi-pollutant standard to address these deposition-related effects, EPA does not yet have enough information to set a multi-pollutant standard that would adequately protect the diverse ecosystems across the country.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set NAAQS for "criteria pollutants." Currently, six major pollutants are criteria pollutants. In addition to sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, the criteria pollutants include ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. The law also requires EPA to review the standards periodically and revise them if appropriate to ensure that they provide the requisite amount of health and environmental protection and to update those standards as necessary. (EPA)

To download a copy of the final rules [NOx & SOx]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shutdown of Northeast Refineries Responsible For High Gas Prices

Gasoline refinery shut downs across the Northeast are threatening to push gasoline prices even higher through the summer driving season. U.S. gasoline prices jumped 6% in February, and market experts predict they will climb higher because critical refining operations in the Northeast are shutting down.
From New York to Philadelphia, refineries that turn oil into gasoline have been idled or shut permanently because their owners are losing money on them.

Commodities markets are forecasting rising prices. Gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange are up 22% this year, and settled Friday at a 10-month high of $3.3569 a gallon. Average pump prices tend to follow futures by a few weeks, averaging about 70 cents a gallon more, after taxes and transport costs. Based on futures, retail prices should average above $4 a gallon soon.

Oil and fuel products come into New York by tanker and pipeline. Much of the oil originates in the Atlantic basin from places like Nigeria and the North Sea. It is then refined into gasoline. The East Coast imports gasoline, too, although that is expensive.
Gasoline production in the Northeast is expected to decline to 350,000 barrels a day in 2013, from 580,000 barrels a day in 2011, according to government estimates. At the beginning of 2010, the East Coast had 12 refineries. Since then, four have closed for good or have been idled, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. ConocoPhillips's Trainer refinery and Sunoco's Marcus Hook refinery, both in Pennsylvania, were idled in December.

Philadelphia-based Sunoco, which refines and sells fuel, said it will shut its plant in that city by July if it doesn't find a buyer. Known in the industry as "Sunoco Philly," the refinery is the oldest and biggest on the East Coast. It first turned crude into fuel in 1870, 38 years before Henry Ford sold his first Model T. (WSJ, 3/16/2012)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

China Leveraging Airbus Jetliner Purchase To Kill Emissions Rule

China is holding back the approvals Chinese airlines need to buy 10 Airbus A330 jetliners, in an escalating international trade row over the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  The Chinese authorities have already held back approvals for the purchase of 45 Airbus passenger aircraft by airlines based in China and Hong Kong.  Orders worth more than $14 billion are now at risk and  Airbus is a major contributor to French exports.

European airlines as well as Airbus may soon bear the brunt of a trade war, particularly because Russia is one country that wants the EU to reverse its decision to include foreign airlines in the ETS.
Under the EU program, any airline operating at an EU airport must hold special credits to offset its carbon-dioxide emissions since the start of this year. Airlines have said their inclusion in the ETS, which already covered many EU industries, will cost them billions of dollars annually.

Airbus and European aviation-related companies sent letters to the leaders of France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., warning of consequences of retaliatory action by foreign governments. India had warned that European airlines face the suspension or nonextension of traffic rights or over flights, and Russia has threatened additional over-flight charges.

European law makers Thursday backed the inclusion of all airlines in the ETS in a vote in the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg. Even though the vote is only a political indication with no legal implications, it is significant because the Parliament is throwing its weight behind legislation that has pitted the EU against 23 other countries angry about the carbon-dioxide trading plan. In a joint declaration statement Feb. 22 after a meeting in Moscow, the countries argued that the EU's unilateral imposition of the ETS program will lead to market distortions and unfair competition.

Last month, China banned its airlines from taking part in the ETS plan. (WSJ, 3/15/2012)

5 States Produce 56% of Total U.S. Crude Oil Production in 2011

Combined oil production (crude oil and lease condensate) from the top five U.S. oil-producing states increased during 2011 (see chart above). The biggest gains were in North Dakota and Texas, due in large part to increased horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing activity. Texas, Alaska, California, North Dakota, and Oklahoma accounted for about 56% of U.S. oil production last year, according to EIA's February Petroleum Supply Monthly report.

Highlights from the top oil-producing states in 2011 included:
  • Texas. The Eagle Ford shale formation in south Texas contributed to gains in the state's oil production, which averaged 1,425 thousand barrels per day (bbl/d), the highest level since 1997.
  • Alaska. Oil production fell for the ninth year in row, averaging 563 thousand bbl/d.
  • California. Oil production averaged 535 thousand bbl/d, the lowest level in at least three decades.
  • North Dakota. Preliminary data indicate increasing oil production from the Bakken formation pushed North Dakota ahead of California in December as the third biggest oil-producing state. North Dakota's oil production averaged 535 thousand bbl/d in December 2011 and 419 thousand bbl/d for the year.
  • Oklahoma. Oil production averaged 204 thousand bbl/d during 2011, topping 200 thousand bbl/d for the first time since 1998.  (DOE-EIA)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Coal Use Drops To New Low

Coal's Share of Total U.S. Electricity Generation Fall Below 40% in Nov & Dec

Although still the largest single fuel for electricity generation, coal's share of monthly power generation in the United States dropped below 40% in November and December 2011. The last time coal's share of total generation was below 40% for a monthly total was March 1978. A combination of mild weather (leading to a drop in total generation) and the increasing price competitiveness of natural gas relative to coal contributed to the drop in coal's share of total generation.

Natural gas prices have dropped significantly this winter, leading the generators in some states (such as Ohio and Pennsylvania) to significantly increase the share of natural gas-fired generation. Natural gas combined-cycle units operate at higher efficiency than do older, coal-fired units, which increases the competitiveness of natural gas relative to coal.

Total electricity generation was down 7% in December 2011 compared to December 2010 (see chart below). Despite this decline, generation from natural gas rose 12% to 86 terawatthours. Coal-fired generation, however, fell by 21% between December 2010 and December 2011, to 132 terawatthours. (DOE-EIA)

EPA ASPECT Program Aircraft on Display

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding an open house to see the Nation’s only 24/7 airborne stand-off chemical and radiological detection, infrared and photographic imagery platform. The Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) program aircraft will be on display along with examples of products from various missions, including photographs and maps.

EPA’s ASPECT program is capable of remotely detecting chemicals and radiation using an array of state-of-the-art chemical and radiological detectors, high resolution digital photography, video and GPS technology combined with sophisticated software applications. The end product is an identified chemical agent, radioisotope or image that is geospatially located and transmitted via SATCOM from the aircraft to decision makers on the ground, just minutes after a flyover.


Program staff will be available to provide informational tours of the aircraft and to answer questions about the program and its capabilities.


WHO:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response

WHAT:
ASPECT Program Open House

WHEN:
Wednesday, March 14, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST

WHERE:
 Hap Arnold Center at the College Park Airport
1909 Corporal Frank Scott Drive
College Park, Md. 20740

Monday, March 12, 2012

Exelon Completes $7.9 Billion Acquisition of Constellation Energy

Chicago-based Exelon has acquired Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group for $7.9 billion.  Christopher M. Crane, who had been the president and chief operating officer of Exelon, is the president and CEO of the combined company. Mayo A. Shattuck III, chairman and CEO of Constellation Energy, will be the executive chairman of the combined company.

The deal creates one of the nation’s largest energy companies, with about 100,000 business and public sector customers and 1 million residential customers, and with operations in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.

Constellation’s shares will no longer be listed on the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Stock Exchange, and will cease trading before the market opens Tuesday.

The new company will keep the Exelon name and remain headquartered in Chicago.  But, the Constellation name will live on as the companies’ competitive power division, which will be headquartered in a $120 million building to be constructed at Harbor Point in Baltimore. Constellation will move from its current headquarters on Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor. (The Daily Record, 3/12/2012)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

NRC Issues Post Fukushima Recommendations

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized its staff to issue immediately effective Orders to U.S. commercial nuclear reactors. This action begins implementation of several recommendations for enhancing safety at U.S. reactors based on lessons learned from the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Two of the Orders apply to every U.S. commercial nuclear power plant, including those under construction and the recently licensed new Vogtle reactors.

The first Order requires the plants to better protect safety equipment installed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to obtain sufficient equipment to support all reactors at a given site simultaneously.

The second Order requires the plants to install enhanced equipment for monitoring water levels in each plant’s spent fuel pool.

The third Order applies only to U.S. boiling-water reactors that have "Mark I" or "Mark II" containment structures. These reactors must improve venting systems (or for the Mark II plants, install new systems) that help prevent or mitigate core damage in the event of a serious accident.

Plants have until Dec. 31, 2016, to complete modifications and requirements of all three Orders The NRC will also issue a detailed information request to every operating U.S. commercial nuclear power plant, and certain parts will apply to reactors currently under construction or recently licensed.

The request covers several topics, including:

  • Re-analyzing earthquake and flooding risks using the latest available information; 
  • Conducting earthquake and flooding hazard "walkdowns," where skilled engineers closely examine a plant’s abilities to meet current requirements;
  • Assessing the ability of a plant’s current communications systems and equipment to perform under conditions of onsite and offsite damage and prolonged loss of all alternating current (ac) electrical power; and
  • Assessing plant staffing levels needed to fill emergency positions in response to events simultaneously affecting all reactors at a given site.
  • Each section of the request includes schedules for plants to provide the relevant information to the NRC.
    Fukushima Daiichi
    The Orders and the information request will be available on the NRC’s website. These actions address what the NRC determined to be the highest-priority recommendations from the agency’s Japan Near-Term Task Force. The Task Force issued its report in July 2011. The NRC staff continues to examine how to best address the remaining Task Force recommendations, as well as additional topics raised during the early implementation effort. (NRC)

    Thursday, March 08, 2012

    EPA Issues 2011 Fuel Economy Trends Report

    Fuel economy edges to record high as carbon pollution levels drop to new low 

    The average fuel efficiency for new cars and light duty trucks has increased while the average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to decrease for the seventh consecutive year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual report, “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 Through 2011.”

    For 2010, the last year for which EPA has final data from automakers, the average real world CO2 emissions from new vehicles were 394 grams per mile and the average fuel economy value was 22.6 miles per gallon (mpg). EPA projects an improvement in 2011, based on pre-model year sales estimates provided to EPA by automakers, to 391 grams of CO2 per mile and 22.8 mpg.

    Fuel economy will continue to improve significantly as part of the Obama administration’s historic standards that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The U.S. Department of Transportation and EPA are implementing the first phase of these standards which already improved fuel economy in 2010 and will raise fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg by 2016. These standards will save American families $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and by 2025 result in an average fuel savings of over $8,000 per vehicle. Additionally, these programs will dramatically cut the oil we consume, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day – as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC every day.

    The report also details the growth of more efficient technologies, such as six-speed transmissions, advanced fuel injection, and turbochargers that are making significant inroads into the mainstream market. EPA expects these and other new technologies to become even more popular in the next few years as automakers prepare to meet and fuel economy standards that will further drive up fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

    The CO2 emissions and fuel economy values above reflect EPA’s best estimates of real world CO2 emissions and fuel economy performance. They are consistent with the fuel economy estimates that EPA provides on new vehicle window stickers and in the Fuel Economy Guide. These real world fuel economy values are about 20 percent lower, on average, than those used for compliance with the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) program. (EPA)

    Saturday, March 03, 2012

    BP Offers $7.8 Billion Settlement To Gulf Spill Litigants

    BP will pay $7.8 billion to settle a lawsuit over the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill with attorneys representing thousands of individual plaintiffs and businesses on the eve of a major trial in a New Orleans federal court.  BP said it expects to pay the settlement from the money remaining in a $20 billion escrow account it setupduring the spill to resolve individual and business claimswithout going to court. The settlement amount includes $2.3 billion to help resolve economic loss claims related to the gulf seafood industry. The rest of the money is divided into separate portions for economic and medical claims.

    The deal is subject to approval by New Orleans District Court Judge Carl Barbier, who issued a statement Friday night that the trial will be postponed again as other parties reassess their strategies in the case. (Wash Post, 3/3/2012)