Monday, December 31, 2012

Center Highlights of 2012


By Norris McDonald

The year was very interesting with many exciting events and milestones.  My son is in college at South Carolina State University.  Life is good.  Although there were many activities, I decided to list the top five of the year below.

Breakfast with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at The White House

Compton-To-Catalina Program (Trips in April and October)

Participated in The White House Forum on Urban Innovation

Selected By Ebony magazine as one of their Ebony Power 100

Attended Ebony Power 100 Gala at Lincoln Center in New York City

CLF Report Shows Natural Gas Leaks Costing Millions

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) released a white paper, Into Thin Air (Accompanying Infographic), that documents the enormous environmental and economic consequences of aging, leaky natural gas pipes around Massachusetts. These leaking gases, known as “fugitive emissions,” amount to a significant source of greenhouse gases, pollution that hinders the state’s efforts to achieve the mandates of the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Meanwhile, gas customers are saddled with paying for all of the gas that is lost into thin air, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars each year.

Every year, millions of tons of powerful global warming causing gases are lost through aging, leaky pipes – and yet there’s no incentive to fix them. Gas companies are allowed to – and do – pass the cost and risk onto Massachusetts customers. To put this in perspective, these losses are larger than the gains made by the state’s nation-leading gas efficiency programs, and the losses are passed on to customers at a cost of $38.8 million annually. The good news is that we can easily tackle this problem, and conserve a valuable resource while reducing customer costs. CLF’s report provides a set of practical solutions for the state and gas companies to do just that.

Despite the risk that aging, leaky pipelines pose to public safety, to the environment, and to ratepayers, current state and federal policies actually provide disincentives for pipeline owners to aggressively find and fix these leaks, unless they pose an immediate threat. In addition, there is no reliable methodology for calculating the actual amount of fugitive emissions. As a consequence, the greenhouse gas emissions from these leaks amount to as much as 4% of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources – pollution that must be reduced in order to avoid the most significant impacts of climate change.

In addition, reducing leaks while increasing the efficiency of existing natural gas infrastructure could provide a more cost-effective, environmentally beneficial means of meeting energy needs in lieu of investing in more expensive new gas pipelines and power plants. As reflected in CLF’s report, repairing leaky gas pipes offers an opportunity to secure energy benefits that customers already pay for but do not receive.

Natural gas use has seen an unprecedented rise over the last few years, a trend that appears likely to continue. As New England’s grid becomes more dependent on natural gas, reducing losses from that system will increase electricity reliability and play an important role in avoiding the unnecessary expansion of natural gas infrastructure. Massachusetts and the gas companies can and should take swift and direct action to change the state of affairs and bring fugitive emissions under control.

CLF recommends a number of policy options be pursued to increase public safety while cost-effectively and expeditiously reducing greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas distribution pipelines. In the paper, CLF outlines five policy options. The prime candidates include: establishing leak classification and repair timelines; limiting cost recovery for lost and unaccounted for gas; expanding targeted infrastructure replacement programs; changing service quality standards; and enhancing monitoring and reporting requirements. With these policies, Massachusetts can foster the repairs and pipe replacement necessary to eliminate this threat to public safety and the environment.

Key findings:

The report makes a number of key findings, including:
  • Massachusetts already has in place aggressive energy efficiency programs. For example, in 2010, Massachusetts natural gas efficiency programs saved 1,097 million cubic feet (MMcf) of natural gas. But in the same time period, Massachusetts lost more gas through distribution system leaks than the efficiency programs saved.
  • The costs of these leaks – about $38.8 million a year – are passed on to gas customers in Massachusetts.
  • More reliable tools are needed for accurately calculating the amount of fugitive emissions.
  • Current state and federal policies provide disincentives for pipeline owners to aggressively find and fix leaks unless they are considered hazardous.
  • Building new transmission lines and new gas generation promises to be a costly endeavor; by contrast, reducing leaks while increasing the efficiency of existing infrastructure, including gas storage, could provide a more cost-effective, environmentally beneficial means of meeting energy needs.
  • There are a number of policy solutions that can be pursued cost-effectively and expeditiously, solutions that are outlined in CLF’s report.
Additional resources:

Find a copy of the report

Find a blog post on this report

Find accompanying infographic

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. (CLF)

Mapping Natural Gas Leaks From Aging Urban Pipes

Scientists from Boston University and Duke University took equipment that detects methane — the main constituent of natural gas — on a 785-mile van ride through Boston’s streets. The result, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, is a map showing more than 3,300 spikes in gas concentrations representing leaks of various sizes.

Most of the leaks are minor, but some could pose an explosion risk and they add up to a lot of lost money and an unnecessary source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to a thorough 2009 report in Pipeline and Gas Journal on gas leaks from our antiquated distribution system:
Fugitive methane emissions from distribution mains account for 32 percent of methane emissions from the U.S. natural gas distribution sector. Cast iron pipelines contribute the most to these emissions, despite representing only 3 percent of the miles of the U.S. distribution mains.
This situation is deeply reminiscent of similar issues with leaky old water mains — some are a century old — in aging cities. Infrared imagery to spot possible gas leaks from drilling sites and pipelines can be used to spot urban leaks. Here’s a closeup image of some Boston’s distribution-system leakage:

Scientists have reported finding methane concentrations reflecting 3,356 leaks in the natural gas distribution system in Boston. This illustration shows spikes in methane levels in parts per million (ppm). The background level is 2.07 ppm.
Environmental Pollution Scientists have reported finding methane concentrations reflecting 3,356 leaks in the natural gas distribution system in Boston. This illustration shows spikes in methane levels in parts per million (ppm). The background level is 2.07 ppm.
Here’s a view from the “cockpit” during their Boston leak-detection tour:

Scientists crisscrossing hundreds of miles of streets in Boston with instruments that detect elevated levels of methane, the main constituent in natural gas. Thousands of leaks were identified.
 (NYT, 11/20/2012)

Friday, December 28, 2012

FERC Approves Dominion's Pipeline Storage Proposal


FERC Docket No. CP12-72-000

The order authorizes, with conditions, Dominion's proposal to construct and operate compression, pipeline, and storage facilities located in Frederick County, Maryland; Monroe County, Ohio; Lewis County, West Virginia; and Tioga County, Pennsylvania (Allegheny Storage Project). The proposed Allegheny Storage Project will provide an additional 115,000 dekatherms (Dth) per day of firm transportation services, an additional 7.5 billion cubic feet of firm storage capacity and 125,000 Dth per day of additional storage withdrawal service to interstate customers. (FERC)

Viginia Uranium Moratorium Issue 2013

In the coming session, the Virginia General Assembly is expected to consider lifting a 30-year moratorium on uranium mining permits that some say would clear the way for the first uranium mine on the East Coast. The lode, with an estimated value of $7 billion, is said to be the largest undeveloped deposit in the country and among the largest in the world. It is buried near Chatham, Virginia.

On January 16, 2007 Virginia Uranium was formed, with Walter Coles as chairman and his son, Walter Coles, Jr., as Executive Vice President. Norman Reynolds, who had been president of the predecessor company, Marline, brought his valuable experience to the table as a Director and as President and Chief Executive Officer.

Investor confidence in the company has not lagged, with a total of $39 million being invested in the project since 2007. Much of that has been spent in additional studies of the ore body, as well as in informing Virginians and their legislators of the enormous positive impact the enterprise can have on the state and region as well as on the nation’s energy security.

The Center supports development of the uranium mine. (Virginia Uranium, Wash Post, 1/27/2012)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

U.S.E.P.A. Approves Clean Air Act Waiver for California's New Clean Car Rules

The United States Environmental Protection Agency today gave the green light to California to set in place its Advanced Clean Cars package of regulations. This sets the stage for a new generation of ultra-clean cars starting in 2017 that slash smog-forming and greenhouse gas emissions and pave the way for increased numbers of zero-emission vehicles through 2025 and beyond.

Today's announcement by U.S.E.P.A. also clears the way for other states covering up to 40 percent of new car sales nationally to adopt California's standards as their own.. This will ensure that the latest technologies will further reduce smog-forming emissions nearly to zero and boost the numbers of zero-emission vehicles sold through 2025. This decision by the federal government recognizes California's important role under the Clean Air Act to set the toughest vehicle emissions standards in the nation. It also allows other states to adopt California's package of clean car regulations, helping clean up the air and save consumers nationwide billions of dollars at the pump.

The Advanced Clean Car package includes the Low Emission Vehicle standard (LEV III) regulation, designed to reduce smog-causing pollutants in gasoline powered vehicles 75 percent by 2025 from 2017 levels. This standard will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from those same vehicles by 34 percent, a figure that parallels federal regulations.

California's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard will drive a shift from gasoline engines to a wider variety of fuel sources, including plug-in hybrids, electric and fuel cell vehicles. These vehicles approach or achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions. By 2025 the ZEV regulations are expected to put 1.4 million of these vehicles on the road in California, and make them 15 percent of annual new vehicle sales, with further dramatic growth expected through 2050 and beyond. The ZEV regulation keeps California at the forefront of the national effort to produce the cleanest cars. States continuing or adding California's ZEV requirements will ensure their consumers get the latest plug-in hybrid and ultimately fuel cell vehicles that are revolutionizing the marketplace, and dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Cleaner cars mean cleaner air and a better environment. Cars are California's largest source of air pollution and greenhouse gases. California's Advanced Clean Car Program will continue to drive new vehicle technology, accelerating the next generation of clean cars that are already commercially available. Economically, California drivers will save $5 billion in operating costs in 2025, and $10 billion by 2030 when more advanced cars are on the road. In 2025, average consumers will see nearly $6,000 in fuel cost savings over the life of the car, nearly triple the estimated per vehicle cost. Based on typical financing for a new vehicle, savings accrue the minute the car drives off the lot.

Lisa Jackson Decides To Step Down at EPA



"I want to thank President Obama for the honor he bestowed on me and the confidence he placed in me four years ago this month when he announced my nomination as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. At the time I spoke about the need to address climate change, but also said: “There is much more on the agenda: air pollution, toxic chemicals and children’s health issues, redevelopment and waste-site cleanup issues, and justice for the communities who bear disproportionate risk.” As the President said earlier this year when he addressed EPA’s employees, “You help make sure the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat are safe. You help protect the environment not just for our children but their children. And you keep us moving toward energy independence…We have made historic progress on all these fronts.” So, I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction, and ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference."
EPA Milestones: 2009-2012
Since January 2009, EPA has taken a number of steps to ensure Americans’ health and environment are protected from the harmful effects of pollution in our air, land and water; and has put in place historic standards that will save tens of thousands of lives, prevent hundreds of thousands of asthma and heart attacks, and avert thousands of emergency room and hospital visits. With each action, EPA has engaged in a deliberative and extensive process, reviewing public comments and engaging all stakeholders to ensure that the standards are sensible, effective and scientifically and legally sound. Significant accomplishments during her term include: 

Improving Air Quality

Finalizing Clean Air Standards for Industrial Boilers, Incinerators and Cement Kilns

In December 2012, EPA finalized changes in Clean Air Act standards for boilers and certain incinerators, providing important public health protections.  While providing flexibility to industry for implementation, the standards will avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths, prevent 5,100 heart attacks and avert 52,00 asthma attacks per year in 2015.

Setting New Health-Based Standard for Fine Particle Pollution

In December 2012, EPA established the annual health standard for fine particle pollution (PM2.5), including soot, at 12 micrograms per cubic meter.  Fine particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to a wide range of health effects, including premature deaths, heart attacks and strokes as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children.

Establishing First-Ever Standards on Mercury and Air Toxics from Power Plants

In December 2011, EPA finalized the first national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants. These new standards will avert up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.

Finalizing A Rule Helping States Reduce Air Pollution and Attain Clean Air Standards

In June 2011, EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which protects the health of millions of Americans by reducing power plant emissions that cross state lines and contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution in other states. The rule will help to prevent 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits, 1.8 million lost work days or school absences, and 400,000 aggravated asthma attacks. A federal court struck down this rule, but that decision is under appeal.

Setting the Nation’s First SO2 Limits in Forty Years

Under Administrator Jackson, EPA strengthened the National Air Quality Standard for Sulfur Dioxide to better protect people’s health, especially those with asthma, children and the elderly. EPA estimates that meeting the new SO2 standard will prevent 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths associated with exposure to fine particle pollution and 54,000 asthma attacks a year.

Setting Historic Fuel Economy Standards

American families will save over $1.7 trillion at the pump -- nearly $8,000 per vehicle, as a result of the Obama Administration's historic fuel efficiency standards and first ever greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks through model year 2025. The Administration’s actions will protect our environment  while reducing America’s dependence on oil by an estimated 12 billion barrels, and, by 2025, reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels per day – enough to offset almost a quarter of the current level of our foreign oil imports. In addition, the Administration set the first ever fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for trucks and busses, which will save American businesses approximately $50 billion in fuel costs.
Completing the Historic Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding

On December 7, 2009, the Administrator signed two distinct findings regarding greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act that established that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) — in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations and that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare. These long-overdue findings cemented 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States Government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution.

Protecting America’s Waters

Restoring America’s Waterbodies

EPA is working to restore and revitalize America’s waterbodies across the nation, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Everglades, the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson served as chair of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Taskforce, which released its final strategy for long term restoration for the Gulf Coast in late 2011. The Chesapeake Bay, as the largest bay in the U.S. and third largest in the world, is assessed as a $1 trillion resource. At the end of 2010, EPA received plans from states in the Chesapeake Bay region to meet the pollution diet goals the agency outlined as necessary for the protection of the Bay. Additionally, the Great Lakes provide some 30 million Americans with drinking water and underpin a multi-billion dollar economy. President Obama has proposed significant funding as part of his Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades.

Releasing a National Clean Water Strategy

In April 2011, the Obama Administration released a national clean water framework and reaffirmed its commitment to the health of our nation’s waters. The administration’s framework outlines a series of actions underway and planned across federal agencies to ensure the integrity of the waters Americans rely on every day for drinking, swimming, and fishing, and that support farming, recreation, tourism and economic growth.

Urban Waters Federal Partnership

In June 2011, EPA announced a new federal partnership that aims to stimulate regional and local economies, create local jobs, improve quality of life, and protect Americans’ health by revitalizing urban waterways in under-served communities across the country.

Strengthening Chemical Safety

Protecting Families from Lead, Mercury and PCBs

EPA took a number of steps to protect the public from harmful chemicals like lead, mercury and PCBs.  

Lead: Lead is a toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes.  In 2010 and 2011, EPA implemented and broadened its rule that requires the use of lead-safe work practice standards by the renovation, repair, and painting industries.    

Mercury: EPA has finalized rules to phase out or ban the use of mercury in a range of measuring devices (thermometers, barometers, etc.) and other products.  Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages.  

PCBs: EPA is also working to determine whether approved uses of PCBs should be limited or banned.  PCBs are man-made chemicals that were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial products until they were banned in 1979 and can cause damage to people's immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system in addition to other health effects.

Taking Long-Overdue Action on Ten Chemicals Found in Everyday Products

EPA set into motion a series of action plans which lay out concrete steps EPA intends to take to address the risks associated with chemicals commonly used in this country. So far, EPA has prepared action plans on ten chemicals:  phthalates; Bisphenol A (BPA); long-chain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs); penta, octa, and decabromodiphenyl ethers (PBDEs); short-chain chlorinated paraffins; benzidine dyes; hexabromocyclododecane; and nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates TDI and MDI. These chemicals are commonly used in everyday products that people can be regularly exposed to and have been linked to or known to cause a range of health effects from reproductive and developmental problems to cancer. 

Expanding Chemicals Testing for Endocrine Disruption

EPA has identified a list of over 100 chemicals that will be screened for their potential to disrupt the endocrine system.  Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interact with and possibly disrupt the hormones produced or secreted by the human or animal endocrine system, which regulates growth, metabolism and reproduction.  Testing is underway on a subset of these chemicals and additional tests will be ordered in the future. 

Removing Confidentiality Claims for More than 150 Chemicals
In order to ensure the public has as much information as possible about the health and the environmental impacts of chemicals; EPA has made public the identities of more than 590 chemicals associated with health and safety studies that had been claimed confidential by industry.  EPA continues to expand the information available to the public on chemicals. 

Cleaning Up Our Communities

Revitalizing Contaminated Sites

EPA has continued work to redevelop contaminated properties, boost local economies and help create jobs through EPA’s brownfields program. In 2011, EPA’s brownfields program leveraged 6,447 jobs and $2.14 billion in cleanup and redevelopment funds. EPA under President Obama has also invested $1 million evaluating the feasibility of developing renewable energy production on Superfund, brownfields, and former landfill or mining sites.

Expanding the Conversation on the Environment and Working for Environmental Justice

Ensuring Environmental Justice for Americans

Plan EJ 2014, released on September, 14, 2011, is EPA’s roadmap for considering how pollution may isproportionately impact communities, particularly low-income, minority and tribal communities. By considering environmental justice in agency rulemaking, permitting, enforcement, and community-based actions, EPA is working to protect the health of every American.

Expanding Outreach to New Groups

EPA has continued to amplify new voices in the environmental conversation, including faith-based groups, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Girl Scouts, the Green Sports Alliance, the Moms Clean Air Task Force, Moms Rising, and Mocha Moms, tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic serving institutions and historically black colleges and universities.

Monday, December 24, 2012

California Cap & Trade Program

By 2013, California electrical power generators and utilities, as well as other greenhouse gas emitters, must comply with an emissions cap mandated by the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB’s) adoption of new regulations. California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 requires a reduction of greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The law vests considerable power in CARB to adopt policies and regulations.  The act does not mandate a cap-and-trade program, but it requires CARB to consider market-based mechanisms when drafting regulations. After considering the options, including a carbon tax, CARB opted for a cap-and-trade approach that includes a gradually declining emissions cap.

The new regulations cover major emission sources, including power plants, refineries and major factories. These sources will be given emission allowances, which must be surrendered in amounts equal to emissions at the end of specified compliance periods. Businesses can buy and trade allowances. The first allowances auction was Nov. 14. The first compliance period begins in 2013.

A successful assault on CARB’s cap-and-trade regime simply would send CARB back to the drawing table either to modify the existing regulations or to formulate a new approach. The mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly will not change.  (Electric Light & Power, Nov/Dec 2012)

Natural Gas Vehicles

Comparison of:

Passenger vehicles running on compressed natural gas (CNG) with

Gasoline and hybrid electric models, and

Heavy-duty trucks running on liquefied natural gas (LNG) with their diesel counterparts.

High costs, reduced cargo space, and range issues— along with stiff competition from other alternative fuels—are likely to make switching to natural gas a tough sell for passenger vehicles. Tractor trailer semi-trucks running on LNG can be a good deal for reducing oil use, conventional pollutant emissions, and costs, but significant uncertainty surrounds the size of their carbon footprints.

Natural Gas Vehicles at a Glance

There are 110,000 natural gas vehicles in the United States.  There are 840 compressed natural gas and 39 liquefied natural gas fueling stations in the United States (compared with 4,000 diesel truck stops). Sources: Bryce 2011; Natural & Bio Gas Vehicle Association 2011.

Passenger Vehicles: Comparing the Options

The light-duty vehicle market currently has one natural gas entrant: the Civic Natural Gas (formerly the GX) by Honda. Chrysler, Ford, and Hong Kong–based Hybrid Kinetic Motors are also gearing up to produce passenger vehicles that run, at least in part, on natural gas.

Without a subsidy, the natural gas Civic costs $26,240—modestly more expensive than the $24,700 hybrid but substantially more expensive than the $19,905 gasoline version. Its maintenance and repair costs are also considerably more expensive.

The fuel economy for the natural gas Civic is about the same as that of the gasoline alternative. But fuel tanks for compressed natural gas are large and heavy, decreasing cargo space by a dramatic 50 percent compared with the gasoline version. Also, its range is lowered to only 218 miles, compared with 383 miles for the comparable gasoline vehicle and 504 miles for the hybrid.

The Economics of LNG-Fueled Heavy-Duty Trucks

Natural gas is more likely to fuel large trucks, particularly tractor trailers, and fleet vehicles, including buses. In addition to the cost and range issues, it would be costly to build the infrastructure to service passenger vehicles throughout the nation’s extensive road system.

Current estimates suggest natural gas trucks have very high up-front costs—around $70,000 more than comparable diesel trucks. Maintenance costs for natural gas trucks are also difficult to calculate: they have been found to be as much as 29 percent greater than their diesel counterparts at one facility, and 6 percent at another, but these estimates are dated.

Yet natural gas historically has cost less than diesel as a fuel, and currently is much cheaper at a gasoline equivalent of $2.50 per gallon. As a result, natural gas trucks can still make economic sense under plausible, albeit optimistic, scenarios—by providing payback periods that might be acceptable to truck buyers, for example.

Solving the Chicken-or-Egg Problem

The biggest stumbling block to the introduction of a new fuel is generally the lack of infrastructure for refueling. Those who would build the infrastructure want to see many vehicles needing the fuel, but those who would buy the vehicles want to see the infrastructure in place first. For natural gas, it has been huge enough to have kept the general public out of the market. Between the compressors for the gas and the cooling units for the LNG, not to mention fuel storage and refueling, only fleet vehicles fueled at centralized facilities could make a go of it.

All this has been changing with the plunging price of natural gas. Companies with large holdings of natural gas wells and high production goals, like Chesapeake Energy, have been looking for outlets for selling their gas, and even to create new markets, with the increase in demand raising prices and increasing profits. Accordingly, some companies have been making plans to invest in infrastructure. Chesapeake Energy’s plans are the most impressive: they are building 150 LNG/CNG stations on interstates across the country, using Pilot J truck filling station land. Other companies are partnering to build and operate LNG “corridors” between some major cities to support heavy-duty truck traffic. Thus, this segment of the market could experience significant growth.

The Last Hurdle: Uncertain Environmental Benefits

With costs and infrastructure in their favor, LNG trucks face one more hurdle—their carbon footprint. Compared to diesel fuel’s lifecycle carbon emissions, those of LNG from conventional gas wells or from shale gas wells are smaller. But if the natural gas itself—methane—is not burned, it becomes a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period in the atmosphere. Calculating just how methane emissions compare with their carbon dioxide counterparts is tricky, though. Because methane lasts for far less time in the atmosphere, some researchers use a much higher factor in converting methane to its carbon dioxide equivalent. In addition, the amount of methane that escapes—is “fugitive,” in industry parlance—from gas wells is uncertain. According to the latest studies, putting together the short lifetime of methane and a high estimate for fugitive methane emissions can result in lifecycle emissions for LNG vehicles exceeding those of diesel. Until this issue is settled, the environmental benefits of natural gas vehicles are uncertain. (Resources For The FutureAlan J. Krupnick)

Friday, December 21, 2012

EPA Building Named After Bill Clinton

William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building
Both chambers of Congress have passed legislation to rename the Environmental Protection Agency’s District of Columbia headquarters after former President Bill Clinton.

The building, located at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue and currently named the “Ariel Rios Building,” previously served as the headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The facility was renovated to house the EPA in 1993. 

Rios was an ATF special agent killed in the line of duty on Dec. 2, 1982. The ATF plans to name a reflecting pool after him at the agency’s current headquarters at 99 New York Avenue NE in Washington.
When President Obama signs the name-change legislation, the EPA headquarters would officially become the “William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building.”  (Wash Post, 12/21/2012)

House Natural Resources Committee NEPA Evaluations

The House Natural Resources committee will devote more attention to environmental reviews and their effects on advancing energy development in a new subcommittee next Congress. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluations will now be wrapped into the newly formed subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. Currently called the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) will remain its chairman.

According to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), "Moving jurisdiction of NEPA to a specific Subcommittee will allow us to better review and address how this law is being implemented and the impacts its bureaucratic red-tape has on jobs, our economy and access to public lands and resources.”

The House Natural Resources Committee, which deals with energy development on federal lands, has pushed the Obama administration to expand oil-and-gas drilling. All applications for such drilling projects must go through a NEPA assessment.

The committee announced all of its other subcommittee chairmen would retain their posts next Congress. Those subcommittee chairmen are: Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.); Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Chairman John Fleming (R-La.); Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska); and Water and Power Chairman Tom McClintock (R-Calif.). (The Hill, 12/20/2012)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

California Utilities Like Cap & Trade Program

From (Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to Southern California Edison, the state's utilities have been placed in a special class that will hold their rates neutral and that effectively cushions companies and their ratepayers from the cost of reducing carbon emissions. Ratepayers of the investor-owned utilities, such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company, will even get a small "climate dividend" under a mechanism ratified today by the PUC. It could be as much as $30 every six months, but the amount will really depend on the market price of carbon, Murtishaw said. It will come in the form of a rebate. The dividend is in addition to rate stabilization. It is supposed to help compensate California consumers for the higher costs they'll be paying for other goods as a result of cap and trade.

By contrast, most industries subject to the cap-and-trade program say the carbon restrictions will cost them plenty – more than $1 billion a year. The California Chamber of Commerce is suing to dismantle the whole enterprise, saying it's an unconstitutional tax. Utilities, though, say they're comfortable with cap and trade.

AB 32, the state's landmark climate-change bill, which requires Californians to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, says utilities should be spared "duplicative" regulations.
Already, electric companies and their customers are bearing the cost of using more solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, which are generally more expensive than traditional sources. Fully one-third of their power must come from renewables by 2020. The program has already survived a failed 2010 ballot initiative that would have overturned AB 32.

Cap and trade is an attempt to inject market forces into the fight against global warming. The state has placed a ceiling on the amount of carbon that can be emitted by more than 400 manufacturers and other big companies; the cap will decline slightly each year. The state wants companies to reduce emissions as much as they can, perhaps by investing in green technologies. Otherwise, if they need emissions allowances they'll have to buy them from the state or on the open market. The point is, there's now a price for carbon pollution – it was trading Wednesday at $13.75 a ton.

Most companies get 90 percent of their emissions allowances for free, from the state, and have to buy the rest. The first state-run auction was held in November and raised around $290 million; another is set for February.

Electric utilities aren't exempt from cap and trade. They have to keep their emissions below a certain threshhold, just like everyone else. But unlike cement-makers, refiners and other industries, they're getting all of their emissions allowances doled out for free. As a result, state officials believe there will be no impact on their rates from cap and trade.

The utilities get all of their allowances for free – but are required to sell them off. Indeed, most of the allowances sold at the state's inaugural auction in November belonged to them.  They then have to purchase whatever allowances they need to comply with the emissions ceiling. The revenue they get from selling their free credits is supposed to offset their costs. The revenue must go to ratepayers – 85 percent to residential customers and the rest to businesses – to hold down rates. (Sacramento Bee, 12/20/2012)

Read more here:

Monday, December 17, 2012

DOE Releases Study on Natural Gas Exports

Energy Department Releases Study on Natural Gas Exports, Invites Public Comment

As part of a broader effort to further inform decisions related to LNG exports, the Department of Energy commissioned NERA Economic Consulting to conduct a third party study in order to gain a better understanding of how U.S. LNG exports could affect the public interest, with an emphasis on the energy and manufacturing sectors.

The Department is releasing that study and making it available for public review and comment. As this is not a Department of Energy product, the Department will be conducting its own review of the study as well as consideration of relevant comments made throughout the process prior to making final determinations.

Federal law generally requires approval of natural gas exports to countries that have a free trade agreement with the United States. For countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the U.S., the Department of Energy is required to grant applications for export authorizations unless the Department finds that the proposed exports "will not be consistent with the public interest." Factors for consideration include economic, energy security, and environmental impacts.

On December 5, 2012, the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy posted the final NERA report into the 15 pending export application dockets, and invites the public to provide comment. The report and resulting comments will be taken into consideration as the Department makes its public interest determinations in each case. The Department will accept initial comments on the report for 45 days after the official notice of the study appears in the Federal Register. Reply comments will be accepted for a period of 30 days, beginning on the day after the conclusion of the initial comment period. All comments received need only be submitted once as they will be placed in the administrative record for each of the 15 currently pending export application dockets.

Following the closing of the reply comment period, the Department of Energy will begin to act on the 15 applications on a case-by-case basis. The study released today will be one of the inputs considered during evaluation of those applications.  The Energy Department expects to act first upon applications for which the applicants have commenced the pre-filing process at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as of December 5, 2012, in the general order in which the Department received them. Following disposition of those applications that have pre-filed with FERC, the Energy Department expects to act upon the rest of the pending applications – and any others submitted - in the order received. (DOE)   

  • Federal Register Notice of Availability of the LNG Export Study [209KB PDF]
  • EIA Analysis (Study - Part 1) [2.48MB PDF]
  • NERA Economic Consulting Analysis (Study - Part 2) [4MB PDF]
  • Summary of LNG Export Applications [117KB PDF]
  • Order of Precedence for Processing Non-FTA Applications [15KB PDF]

  • Exporting Natural Gas?

    The government should quickly begin easing restrictions on the export of natural gas to take advantage of the vast new discoveries of a fuel that only a decade ago was in relatively short supply in this country. The benefits of selling gas to other countries would more than offset the modestly negative impact of higher prices for domestic users of the fuel.

    Production from shale gas fields has swelled American reserves and driven down prices by two-thirds since 2008. American natural gas is now among the cheapest fuels anywhere in the world and costs as little as one-fourth of what the fuel sells for in Europe and Asia.

    The export of gas in liquefied form could provide a $47 billion boost to the economy by 2020, including the construction of gas terminals. Exports would also help to lower emissions linked to global climate change by giving countries like India, China, Japan and Germany access to a cleaner energy source than coal.

    Greater gas exports could also factor into American foreign policy. By offering countries like India and China access to cheap American gas, it could give the United States new leverage in trade negotiations.

    The main opposition comes from chemical and fertilizer companies that are big users of natural gas, and from consumers who fear higher prices. With more gas headed to foreign shores, domestic supplies of the fuel are expected to fall, driving up its price. But prices would still be well below their 2008 levels, and they would rise only gradually, over the course of several years. A second objection comes mainly from some environmental groups that regard fracturing, the technique used to extract gas from deep shale formations, as environmentally dangerous. These concerns are best addressed by much tighter regulation of gas production, not by restricting exports.

    About 15 new liquefied natural gas terminals have been proposed by the industry. Of these, four are scheduled to receive regulatory decisions in 2013. (NYT, 12/15/2012)

    D.C. GSA West Heating Plant Auction

    Auction Date Set for West Heating Plant in Georgetown

    GSA West Heating Plant
    The General Services Administration plans to sell the West Heating Plant, in Georgetown, using an online auction set to begin January 18.

    The six-story plant on two acres at 1051 29th St. NW offers clear views of the Potomac River from its top floor and is considered one of the most valuable undeveloped sites in Georgetown. It has been almost completely vacant since 2000.

    Starting bids are $500,000, according to details released by the GSA Monday, with bid increments of at least $200,000.

    Despite its location and views, there is disagreement whether the building’s new owner will be allowed to add windows to its exterior, which could scare off some potential buyers.

    Neighbors and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) also say they want a park to be built on part of the property, which would further drive down its value to investors.

    You can follow the auction — or bid! — here. (Wash Post, 12/17/2012)

    More On Anticipated EPA Fracking Study

    Mandated by Congress in EPA's fiscal year 2010 budget, the agency's highly anticipated study on the drinking water risks posed by fracking -- the injection of chemical-laced fluids to extract oil and gas -- is expected to set a benchmark for whether EPA needs to regulate the injection practice and whether Congress needs to amend current law to provide that authority.

    If EPA decides, based on the final study results, to make the case for expanding federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) would be the most logical place to do that -- though the industry is opposed to such an approach and Congress would first need to reverse a statutory exemption before the agency could regulate the practice.

    The study has already proven contentious. Industry groups and members of Congress have urged the agency to narrow the study's scope and to step up scientific scrutiny before the study goes final. While industry has long opposed efforts to regulate the injection practice under SDWA, saying the practice is safe, wastewater contamination issues are also a concern. For example, one particularly contentious question is over disposal of fracking wastewater and how broadly EPA is considering the issue.

    EPA's science advisors had urged the agency to consider wastewater disposal practices, though EPA decided that it would only consider whether there is inadequate treatment at municipal and industrial treatment facilities for wastewater from fracking.

    At technical meetings held last month, environmentalists called for the agency to broaden its pending assessment to review controversial wastewater disposal to underground reservoirs -- where the majority of wastewater from the industry is disposed, rather than just the limited releases to treatment facilities that EPA is currently reviewing. But EPA told the advocates that the agency will not do such research as part of the pending study -- but rather as part of broader research it is conducting with other federal agencies. (Inside EPA)

    EPA Enforcement in 2012

    Lisa Jackson & President Obama
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released its annual enforcement results, showing significant environmental and public health protections achieved – a reduction of 2.2 billion pounds of air, water and land pollution, as well as 4.4 billion pounds of hazardous waste, and $252 million in civil and criminal penalties levied – while also focusing on enforcement efforts that reduce smaller amounts of pollution but have substantial health impacts in communities.

    Enforcement plays a vital role in protecting communities from harmful pollution.

    FY 2012 results include:

    - Sustained and focused enforcement attention on serious violators of clean drinking water standards has resulted in improvements in compliance. The number of systems with serious violations has declined by more than 60 percent in the past three years as a result of combined federal and state enforcement work, protecting people’s health through safer drinking water.

    - More than 67 percent of large
    combined sewer systems serving people across the country are implementing clean water solutions to reduce raw sewage and contaminated stormwater and more are underway. EPA is working with communities to design integrated solutions to these water quality problems, and incorporating innovative and cost effective green infrastructure to save money and achieve multiple community benefits.

    - EPA is bringing criminal prosecutions where criminal activity threatens public health, like failing to use required pollution control equipment or knowingly violating pollution rules resulting in death or serious harm or falsifying pollution information. See a
    case example in Louisiana.

    - EPA is advancing environmental justice by incorporating fenceline monitoring, which requires companies to monitor their air emissions and make that data available public, into settlements, ensuring that local residents have access to critical information about pollution that may be affecting their community. EPA also secured $44 million in additional investments through settlements for supplemental environmental projects that benefit impacted communities. See an
    oil refinery case example.

    - EPA is increasing transparency to use the power of public accountability to help improve environmental compliance. EPA’s 2012
    enforcement actions map provides information about violators in communities. EPA’s state dashboards and Clean Water Actpollutant loading tool provides the public with information about local pollution that may affect them and allows the public to take a closer look at how government is responding to pollution problems. (EPA)

    More information about EPA’s FY 2012 enforcement results.

    GW Solar Institute's Fifth Solar Symposium

    The GW Solar Institute's Fifth Solar Symposium will be presented April 23, 2013. Save the date, and register for free.

    This year's event is entitled "Solar Energy: Going Global" and will emphasize the opening of new markets worldwide. You will hear from those who are directly experiencing the new world of solar energy in countries with explosive deployment growth. Both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal electric will be highlighted.

    Mailing address:

    GW Solar Institute
    609 22nd St. NW
    Suite 301
    Washington, DC20052

    Friday, December 14, 2012

    EPA Announces Soot Pollution Standards

    In response to a court order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized an update to its national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution (PM2.5), including soot, setting the annual health standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter. By 2020, ninety-nine percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet revised health standard without any additional actions

    Today’s announcement has no effect on the existing daily standard for fine particles or the existing daily standard for coarse particles (PM10), which includes dust from farms and other sources), both of which remain unchanged.

      Fine particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. A federal court ruling required EPA to update the standard based on best available science. Today’s announcement, which meets that requirement, builds on smart steps already taken by EPA to slash dangerous pollution in communities across the country. Thanks to these steps, 99 percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet the standard without any additional action.

    It is expected that fewer than 10 counties, out of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States, will need to consider any local actions to reduce fine particle pollution in order to meet the new standard by 2020, as required by the Clean Air Act. The rest can rely on air quality improvements from federal rules already on the books to meet this new standard.

    More on the 2020 Map

    The standard, which was proposed in June and is consistent with the advice from the agency’s independent science advisors, is based on an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies – including many large studies which show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood. It also follows extensive consultation with stakeholders, including the public, health organizations, and industry, and after considering more than 230,000 public comments.

    By 2030, it is expected that all standards that cut PM2.5 from diesel vehicles and equipment alone will prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions and 4.7 million days of work lost due to illness.

    Because reductions in fine particle pollution have direct health benefits including decreased mortality rates, fewer incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and childhood asthma, the PM2.5 standards announced today have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs. EPA estimates health benefits of the revised standard to range from $4 billion to over $9 billion per year, with estimated costs of implementation ranging from $53 million to $350 million. While EPA cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the Clean Air Act, those costs are estimated as part of the careful analysis undertaken for all significant regulations, as required by Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama in January 2011.

    The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review its air quality standards every five years to determine whether the standards should be revised. The law requires the agency to ensure the standards are “requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety” and “requisite to protect the public welfare.” A federal court required EPA to issue final standard by December 14, because the agency did not meet its five-year legal deadline for reviewing the standards.

    EPA carefully considered extensive public input as it determined the appropriate final standard to protect public health. The agency held two public hearings and received more than 230,000 written comments before finalizing today’s updated air quality standards. (EPA)

    More Information

    Administrator’s Video

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    Keystone XL Pipeline Construction (Oklahoma To Texas)

    The Canadian pipeline company  began construction of the southern leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on August 9.  The Canadian pipeline company is installing segments near Livingston, Texas.  The southern section of the pipeline received government approval in July.
     The pipeline is designed to eventually carry diluted bitumen from the tar sands of northern Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Construction is expected to unfold over at least the next year, and probably longer.
    TransCanada hopes to construct a pipeline from the Canadian border to Texas. But President Obama in January rejected the company’s application for an international permit to build the entire structure, saying it needed further study -- particularly of any route through the sensitive Sandhills of Nebraska, which lie atop a massive agricultural aquifer.
    TransCanada has agreed to reroute the northern portion of the pipeline in Nebraska and has launched a new application. In the meantime, the company, with Obama’s endorsement, has moved to begin construction of the southern half, from Oklahoma to Texas. This portion does not require an international permit.
    TransCanada responded by working on a relatively small detour to avoid Nebraska’s sensitive Sand Hills region. The Nebraska legislature approved of a billto allow the state to move forward with a new Keystone XL route, on a 44-5 vote that Gov. Dave Heineman promptly signed into law. The last major objection to Keystone XL has been resolved. That construction was imminent became clear in late July, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the last of three key permits needed to build the southern section.

    Even without the northern section, company officials have said putting the southern section in place will help alleviate a bottleneck of crude oil at the giant terminal in Cushing, Oklahoma.
    If the U.S. State Department approves the revised permit application for the northern segment, that construction could begin in early 2013. (L.A. Times, 8/16/2012)

    Canada's National Energy Board Energy Market Assessment

    Oil Sands

    What are the main conclusions of the Energy Market Assessment?
    • Alberta's oil sands collectively contain vast bitumen resources, one of the largest known hydrocarbon deposits in the world. Established reserves are estimated to be 178 billion barrels.
    • By 2015, production is expected to more than double to about 2.2 million barrels per day.
    • Supply costs of oil sands production have fallen dramatically although the industry recently has been through a period of cost over-runs. In the longer term, it is expected that continuous improvement and new technologies will lower supply costs further.
    • In the short-term, expansions in the traditional markets will occur for the additional supply and, in the longer term, new markets will need to be developed. The industry has been creative when seeking markets for its production.
    • To transport production to existing or new markets, pipelines will have to be expanded or new pipelines will have to be built.
    • The cumulative environmental effects of development are beginning to be considered in a coordinated manner, and companies are combining their individual management strategies. There is an opportunity for developers to be world leaders in long-term sustainable development of oil sands by adopting new technologies and in developing cooperative approaches which address issues such as air emissions and water use.
    • The economic benefits associated with the oil sands are considerable, and a significant portion of the income effect occurs outside of Alberta.
    • If poorly managed, the expansion of the oil sands has the potential to impose negative socio-economic impacts on communities surrounding the regions being developed.
    • Natural gas requirements for the oil sands industry are projected to increase substantially during the projected period from 0.6 billion cubic feet per day in 2003 to a range of 40 to 1.4 to 1.6 billion cubic feet per day in 2015. In response to higher and more volatile gas prices, producers are seeking ways to reduce their dependence on natural gas as the major sources of energy and hydrogen for their operations.
    • Co-generation of steam and electricity holds tremendous synergies for oil sands operations by lowering energy costs and improving electricity reliability.
    How much money is being invested in oil sands?
    Over C$60 billion in oil sands related projects have been proposed. Approximately C$20 billion has been invested to-date in completed projects.
    It takes about 1000 cubic feet of natural gas to produce one barrel of bitumen.
    The water requirements for oil sands projects range from 2.5 to 4.0 barrels of water for each barrel of bitumen produced.  (Canada National Energy Board)

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    NRDC Carbon Dioxide Reduction Plan

    NRDC has crafted an approach to cut carbon dioxide from existing power plants that:
    • uses the legal authority under the Clean Air Act.
    • recognizes differences in the starting points among states.
    • charts a path to affordable and effective emissions reductions by tapping into the ingenuity of the states.
    • provides multiple compliance options, including cleaning up existing power plants, shifting power generation to plants with lower emissions or none at all, and improving the efficiency of electricity use.
    NRDC Report: "Closing the Power Plant Carbon Pollution Loophole: Smart Ways the Clean Air Act Can
    Clean Up America’s Biggest Climate Polluters"

    Using the same sophisticated integrated planning model used by the industry and the EPA, NRDC calculated the pollution reductions that would result from the proposed approach -- and the costs and benefits of achieving those reductions.

    The plan would cut CO2 pollution from America's power plants by 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025. The price tag: about $4 billion in 2020. But the benefits -- in saved lives, reduced illnesses, and climate change avoided -- would be $26 to 60 billion, 6 to 15 times greater than the costs. (NRDC)

    EPA & CPSC Collaborate on Nanomaterials

    EPA and Consumer Product Safety Commission Collaborate to Research Health Impacts of Nanomaterials

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are collaborating in a worldwide research effort to assess any potential impacts of nanomaterials on people’s health and the environment. Nanomaterials appear in many household products ranging from clothing to building materials. For example, one ongoing study evaluates the potential human and environmental effects from exposure to copper nanomaterials, an ingredient in wood treatment products used on wood for building decks and fences.

    The emerging field of nanotechnology has led to substantial advances in energy, medicine, electronics, and clean technologies. The field relies on using materials at the nanoscale level, these nanomaterials are made up of very small particles, which are about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Because of the unique properties of these materials, it is important to conduct research to identify methods that will allow manufacturers and other stakeholders to ensure that products containing these materials do not harm people or the environment.

    Nanotechnology and nanomaterials used in the development of these products improve our everyday lives, but it is important that we understand how humans are exposed to nanomaterials and to assess the risks they may pose to people’s health and the environment. This innovative research greatly improves what is known about nanomaterials and will inform the future design of more sustainable, effective nanomaterials.

    These tiny nanomaterials are widely used in products ranging from clothing to sunscreen, but the need for additional research and knowledge on how they affect consumers is great. The CPSC staff is working diligently to meet the challenges involved in regulating this emerging technology and is pleased to be collaborating with staff at EPA to develop test methods and exposure data to adequately address health and safety concerns.

    EPA's collaborative research with CSPC is part of a larger international effort that focuses on:

    • Identifying, characterizing and quantifying the origins of nanomaterials
    • Studying biological processes affected by nanomaterials that could influence risk
    • Determining how nanomaterials interact with complex systems in the human body and the environment
    • Involving industry to develop sustainable manufacturing processes
    • Sharing knowledge through innovative online applications that allow for rapid feedback and accelerated research progress

    CPSC, in working with other federal agencies, ensures that common public health concerns are met and will use research findings to inform:

    • Protocol development to assess the potential release of nanomaterials from consumer products
    • Credible rules for consumer product testing to evaluate exposure
    • Determination of the potential public health impacts of nanomaterial used in consumer products

    This research is a part of the U.S. government’s efforts to assess the potential risks of nanomaterials. These efforts are coordinated by the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). NNI is a collaborative project comprised of 25 agencies, including EPA and CPSC.  (EPA, CPSC)

    More information about EPA’s nanomaterials research

    More information about CPSC’s nanomaterials research

    More information about the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative