Thursday, May 23, 2013

9th Circuit Says Consent Decree Cannot Circumvent Rulemaking

A recent Ninth Circuit decision calls into question the government’s practice of using consent decrees in a judicial proceeding to set policy for parties nationwide in environmental matters. In Conservation Northwest v. Sherman (Conservation Northwest II), No. 11-35729, 2013 WL 1760807 (9th Cir. Apr. 25, 2013), the court makes a critical distinction between consent decrees which temporarily modify a rule to achieve a particular result in a particular case, and consent decrees which purport to have broader applicability. Specifically, the court held it is an abuse of discretion for a federal court to “enter a consent decree that permanently and substantially amends an agency rule that would have otherwise been subject to statutory rulemaking procedures.”
A number of commentators and legislators have called attention to the government’s practice of setting national policy through settlement of individual lawsuits that raise novel issues. Setting policy in this way is said to deprive affected third parties of the right to meaningfully participate in the rule making process. In 2012, Republican legislators proposed the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2012, which would have required that any party affected by a decree be given the right to intervene in the pending court action.  (More at: Marten Law, By Myles Conway and Daniel Timmons)

White House Women’s Leadership Summit on Climate Change and the Environment

The White House held a forum on climate change today that included women from all over the country. The forum included 100 women leaders in a dialogue on the science of climate change, communication about the climate and energy challenges, policy solutions, and activism in  workplaces, careers, and communities.


Dr. Kathy Sullivan, Acting Administrator, NOAA
Chair Nancy Sutley, Council on Environmental Quality
Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President on Energy and Climate Change
Dorothy Robyn, General Services Administration
Kateri Callahan, President, Alliance to Save Energy
Nancy Pfund, Managing Director, DBL Investors
Frances Beinecke, President, NRDC
Cecilia Estolano, Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors
Reverend Sally Bingham, Regeneration Project

FracFocus: Chemical Disclosure Registry

FracFocus is the national hydraulic fracturing chemical registry.

FracFocus is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, two organizations whose missions both revolve around conservation and environmental protection.

The site was created to provide the public access to reported chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing within their area. To help users put this information into perspective, the site also provides objective information on hydraulic fracturing, the chemicals used, the purposes they serve and the means by which groundwater is protected.

The primary purpose of this site is to provide factual information concerning hydraulic fracturing and groundwater protection. It is not intended to argue either for or against the use of hydraulic fracturing as a technology. It is also not intended to provide a scientific analysis of risk associated with hydraulic fracturing. While FracFocus is not intended to replace or supplant any state governmental information systems it is being used by a number of states as a means of official state chemical disclosure. Currently, ten states: Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, North Dakota, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania use Fracfocus in this manner. Finally, this site does not deal with issues unrelated to chemical use in hydraulic fracturing such as Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM). This topic is beyond the current scope of this site.

FracFocus is a dynamic website that will evolve and expand over time. We welcome your comments and suggestions regarding the site. You can submit a comment or suggestion regarding this website from the Ask a Question page. The chemical data presented on this site has been submitted on a voluntary or regulatory basis by the participating oil and gas companies listed on the Links page who have agreed to disclose the information in the public interest. We hope you will find this site useful and informative.

Important Notes:

1. Participating companies have agreed to post records of wells fractured after the later of the date they registered to participate or January 1, 2011. Over the first full year of operation from April 11, 2011 to April 11, 2012 the FracFocus system recorded over 15,000 disclosures from a total of 231 participating companies. During the same period the FracFocus website had been visited more than 210,000 by over 145,000 individuals.

2. Questions about the fracturing of a specific well should be directed to the company whose name appears in the header of the fracturing record.

3. The listing of a chemical as proprietary on the fracturing record is based on the “Trade Secret ‡” provisions related to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) found on the above link .


Kraft Pulp Mills NSPS Review

EPA New Source Performance Standards Proposed Rule For Pulp Mills

The EPA is proposing revisions to the new source performance standards for kraft pulp mills. These revised standards include particulate matter emission limits for recovery furnaces, smelt dissolving tanks and lime kilns, which apply to emission units commencing construction, reconstruction or modification that are different than those required under the existing standards for kraft pulp mills.

The exemptions to opacity standards do not apply to the proposed standards for kraft pulp mills. The proposed rule also removes the exemption for periods of startup and shutdown resulting in a standard that applies at all times.

The proposed rule includes additional testing requirements and updated monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting requirements for affected sources. These differences are expected to ensure that control systems are properly maintained over time, ensure continuous compliance with standards and improve data accessibility for the EPA, states, tribal governments and communities.  (Federal Register, 5/23/2013)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tesla Automotive Repaid $465 Million Government Loan

Tesla Motors has repaid the entire remaining balance on a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy nine years earlier than originally required. 

Loan losses to date represent about 2 percent of the overall $34 billion portfolio. The other 98 percent of the portfolio includes 19 new clean energy power plants that are adding enough solar, wind and geothermal capacity to power a million homes and displace 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year – roughly equal to taking a million cars off the road.

Key Statistics and Highlights of the Department’s Loan Portfolio:

Losses to date in the Department’s loan programs represent about 2 percent of the $34 billion portfolio and less than 10 percent of the $10 billion loan loss reserve that Congress set aside to cover expected losses in the programs.
Many of the nation’s largest and most innovative energy and transportation projects are supported by the Department of Energy’s loan programs, including:

  • Several of the world’s largest solar generation facilities and thermal energy storage systems (Ivanpah, Agua Caliente, Desert Sunlight, Abengoa Solana, and Solar Reserve Tonopah)
  • The first two all-electric vehicle manufacturing facilities in the U.S. (Tesla and Nissan)
  • The first nuclear power plant to be built in the U.S. in the last 30 years (Vogtle)

In the auto industry specifically, these investments have made an enormous impact. In June 2009, for example, the Department offered more than $8 billion in conditional loan commitments to three companies -- Ford, Nissan and Tesla – to help retool, refurbish, and reopen American auto plants to produce the cars of the future. The results have been impressive:

  • The Department provided a $5.9 billion loan to Ford Motor Company to upgrade and modernize thirteen factories across six states and to introduce new technologies to raise the fuel efficiency of more than a dozen popular vehicles, including C-Max Hybrid, Focus, Escape, Fusion, Taurus, and F-150 trucks, representing approximately two million new vehicles annually. This investment is supporting approximately 33,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs across the United States.
  • In Smyrna, Tennessee, the first advanced battery packs produced in the United States are coming off the production line of Nissan North America’s production plant. These advanced batteries are powering U.S.-made all electric Nissan LEAF cars. The construction of the 1.3-million-square-foot, state of the art battery facility was made possible through a $1.4 billion loan from the Department of Energy.
  • Tesla’s $465 million loan enabled it to reopen a shuttered auto manufacturing plant in Fremont, California and to produce battery packs, electric motors, and other powertrain components. Tesla vehicles have won wide acclaim, including the 2013 Car of the Year from both Motor Trend and Automotive Magazine, and Consumer Reports recently rated Tesla’s Model S as tied for the best car ever rated. Tesla has created more than 3,000 full-time jobs in California – far more than the company initially estimated – and is building out a supply chain that supports numerous additional jobs and technologies, and is bringing advanced manufacturing technology back to America.

It’s important to remember that these three loans were conditionally offered in June 2009, which was a time when many people believed that the industry itself might not survive. That was the same month GM filed for bankruptcy, and auto sales were 28 percent lower than the year before.  (DOE)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz Sworn In Today

Secretary Ernest Moniz (left),  with his wife, Naomi, shortly after being
 sworn into office  by Deputy Energy Secretary  Daniel Poneman (right).

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Accuses Environmental Groups of Abusing Regulatory Process

Sue and Settle: Regulating Behind Closed Doors

What Is Sue and Settle?

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sue and settle occurs when an agency intentionally relinquishes its statutory discretion by accepting lawsuits from outside groups that effectively dictate the priorities and duties of the agency through legally binding, court-approved settlements negotiated behind closed doors—with no participation by other affected parties or the public.
The Chamber says that as a result of the sue and settle process, the agency intentionally transforms itself from an independent actor that has discretion to perform its duties in a manner best serving the public interest into an actor subservient to the binding terms of settlement agreements, which includes using congressionally appropriated funds to achieve the demands of specific outside groups. The Chamber believes this process also allows agencies to avoid the normal protections built into the rulemaking process—review by the Office of Management and Budget and the public, and compliance with executive orders—at the critical moment when the agency’s new obligation is created.

What Is the Sue and Settle Process?

  1. Environmental advocacy group sues federal agency to issue regulations by a specific deadline.
  2. Environmental advocacy group and federal agency work out an agreement.*
    *Conducted behind closed doors.
  3. Draft consent decree or settlement agreement is lodged with the court.
  4. Under some laws the federal agency invites and receives public comments on the decree or agreement.*
    *Too little, too late: the damage has been done.
  5. Court finalizes the decree or agreement.*
    *It generally does not matter to courts if the decree or agreement is not required or authorized by statute.

Which Advocacy Groups Use the Sue and Settle Process the Most?

Which Courts Handle the Most Sue and Settle Cases?

Comparing the Use of Sue and Settle Over the Past 15 Years

What are the Economic Implications of our Findings?

(U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tar Sands Petroleum Coke

Koch Carbon owns the small mountain of of waste petroleum coke in Detroit (see photo) from oil sands bitumen refining. The company is controlled by Charles and David Koch, wealthy industrialists who back a number of conservative and libertarian causes including activist groups that challenge the science behind climate change. The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.
The coke comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands — and producing the waste that is sold to Koch — only in November. Marathon Petroleum’s plant in Detroit processes 28,000 barrels a day of the oil sands bitumen.      
Petroleum coke, a waste byproduct of refining oil sands oil, is piling up along the Detroit River
Almost 56 percent of Canada’s oil production is from the petroleum-soaked oil sands of northern Alberta, more than 2,000 miles north.
An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.
Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum. While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes.       
The Keystone XL pipeline will provide Gulf Coast refineries with a steady supply of diluted bitumen from the oil sands. The plants on the coast, like the coking refineries concentrated in California to deal with that state’s heavy crude oil, are positioned to ship the waste to China or Mexico, where it is burned as a fuel. California exports about 128,000 barrels of petroleum coke a day, mainly to China.
The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow any new licenses permitting the burning of petroleum coke in the United States. Overseas companies see it as a cheap alternative to low-grade coal. In China, it is used to generate electricity, adding to that country’s air-quality problems. There is also strong demand from India and Latin America for American petroleum coke, where it mainly fuels cement-making kilns.  (NYT, 5/17/2013, Photo: Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interior Department Bureau of Land Management Issues Draft Fracking Rule

Under proposed fracking rules, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management would require wider disclosure of chemicals used in drilling. It would also require that companies have a water-management plan for fluids that flow back to the surface and take steps to assure wellbore integrity and prevent toxic fluids from leaking into groundwater.

Most environmentalists contend that the new draft provided weaker water protections than a version the Interior Department proposed a year ago.  Environmental groups are disappointment that the regulations do not include a ban on the storage of waste fluids in open, lined pits. They also want complete disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, which the regulations would not require.

Oil industry groups want the regulation left in the hands of states and are opposed to any federal rules. Companies could also use affidavits to assert trade-secret protection of certain chemicals, although the BLM would keep the authority to require disclosure “if necessary,” the department said.
The proposed regulations were also revised to allow companies to test the integrity of cement barriers in one well and then use the results to guide the development of similar wells. The American Petroleum Institute criticized the department for not simply leaving regulation to state agencies.

The reegulations would allow companies to disclose the chemicals to FracFocus, an Oklahoma-based Web site that has been criticized for its ties to industry. A Harvard Law School study concluded that FracFocus was not effective and “does not serve the interests of the public.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who as a petroleum engineer used hydraulic fracturing while drilling
oil and gas wells in the 1970s, called the proposals “common-sense updates” of regulations. She called fracking “an essential tool” but said it should not be left to a “patchwork” of state regulations.
The department said that about 90 percent of the oil and gas wells drilled on federal and Indian lands used hydraulic fracturing, a technique that unlocks oil and gas from shale rock by creating small fissures for oil and gas to flow.

The BLM estimated that the total annual cost of the regulations would range from $12 million to $20 million, down from $37 million to $44 million for the original proposal. When spread over all hydraulically fractured wells on federal and Indian lands, the annual costs would average no more than $5,100 a well, according to the BLM.

The public still has 30 days to comment on the second draft of the rules, and officials said they were particularly interested in comments about whether to require storage of waste fluids in closed tanks instead of open pits. The first draft of the regulations, issued a year ago, drew about 177,000 comments. (Wash Post, 5/16/2013)

Senate Confirms Ernest Moniz As Energy Secretary

The Senate on Thursday voted 97-0 to approve President Obama’s nominee to head the Department

Ernest Moniz

of Energy. Ernest Moniz, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist who served as undersecretary of Energy in the Clinton administration, replaces former Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

California Governor Jerry Brown Proposes Borrowing $500 Million From Cap and Trade Program

California Governor Jerry Brown has proposed borrowing $500 million from the state's carbon cap-and-trade auctions and using those to help balance the general fund budget.

The governor presented a $96.4 billion revised spending plan for the coming fiscal year that included the loan from the carbon trading program, a move that triggered outrage from environmental and community groups.  The Legislature will have to approve the revised budget

By law, the Golden State must spend the funds on efforts that reduce carbon emissions or otherwise meet the purposes of California's climate measure, A.B. 32.  Shifting the money from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund -- where emissions trading money lands -- is very controversial because this is the first full year that California is selling carbon allowances and there isn't a good estimate of how much revenue to expect.

The first two sales of greenhouse gas permits generated about $140 million for the state. The $500 million loan includes money from the first auctions plus allowances still to be sold this coming fiscal year. Brown and other state officials said that the loan was a one-time option and that they expected the monies beginning next year to go toward programs that shrink carbon.

Communities and environmental groups have questioned whether the delay in spending the money on climate causes would undermine public support for the program. The loan will delay opportunities to use those funds to actually get reductions in global warming pollution.

Low-income communities are accusing Brown of subverting the intent of S.B 535, legislation passed last year that requires part of the auction money go toward helping economically disadvantaged areas. Voters of color turned out in force to protect A.B. 32, the clean energy law, when it was under attack by Prop. 23, and they did it based on the promise that it would bring clean energy investments to polluted and struggling communities.

State officials did not commit to any repayment plan for the cap-and-trade revenues, but state EPA Secretary Rodriguez said that the loan "is short term and the money will be repaid with interest."
Karen Finn, program budget manager for the California Department of Finance, said that the money would be refunded as it became needed, once the Legislature approved specific programs. (E& E Publishing, LLC, 5/15/2013)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

S. 761: Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013

1st Session
S. 761

To promote energy savings in residential and commercial buildings and industry, and for other purposes.

April 18, 2013

Mrs. SHAHEEN (for herself, Mr. PORTMAN, Mr. COONS, and Ms. COLLINS) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

May 13, 2013

Reported by Mr. WYDEN, with amendments

To promote energy savings in residential and commercial buildings and industry, and for other purposes.


Subtitle A--Building Energy Codes

      Sec. 101. Greater energy efficiency in building codes.

Subtitle B--Worker Training and Capacity Building

      Sec. 111. Building training and assessment centers.


      Sec. 201. Private commercial building efficiency financing.


Subtitle A--Manufacturing Energy Efficiency

      Sec. 301. Purposes.
      Sec. 302. Future of Industry program.
      Sec. 303. Sustainable manufacturing initiative.
      Sec. 304. Conforming amendments.

Subtitle B--Supply Star

      Sec. 311. Supply Star.

Subtitle C--Electric Motor Rebate Program

      Sec. 321. Energy saving motor control rebate program.

Subtitle D--Transformer Rebate Program

      Sec. 331. Energy efficient transformer rebate program.


      Sec. 401. Adoption of information and communications technology power savings techniques by Federal agencies.
      Sec. 402. Availability of funds for design updates.
      Sec. 403. Natural gas and electric vehicle infrastructure.
      Sec. 404. Federal data center consolidation. 


      Sec. 501. Offset.
      Sec. 502. Budgetary effects.
      Sec. 503. Advance appropriations required.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sequester Cuts Weaken Readiness For Wildfire Season

Administration officials warned Monday that sequester cuts would weaken wildfire management as agencies prepare for a season with “above normal significant fire potential.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has noted that authorities were “dealing with significantly challenged budgets.”

Reduced budgets at the Interior Department will also hinder fire response.  The department had to scale back summer employment, losing park rangers and seasonal staff who have a “red card” to fight fires.

Federal officials said they are “confident” the West will experience a higher-than-average amount of wildfires this year, though fewer and on a smaller scale than those that ravaged the region in 2012.
Last year, wildfires burned 9.3 million acres of land — the third-most since 1960 — and more than 4,400 structures.

Many Democratic lawmakers and President Obama have linked those wildfires to climate change, arguing that drought conditions affecting the West and Midwest along with higher temperatures sparked the uptick. (The Hill, 5/13/2013)

Saturday, May 11, 2013


"The United States is an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues ."1

1 National Security Strategy, May 2010.

The National Strategy for the Arctic Region sets forth the United States Government’s strategic priorities for the Arctic region. This strategy is intended to position the United States to respond effectively to challenges and emerging opportunities arising from significant increases in Arctic activity due to the diminishment of sea ice and the emergence of a new Arctic environment. It defines U.S. national security interests in the Arctic region and identifies prioritized lines of effort, building upon existing initiatives by Federal, state, local, and tribal authorities, the private sector, and international partners, and aims to focus efforts where opportunities exist and action is needed.

It is designed to meet the reality of a changing Arctic environment, while we simultaneously pursue our global objective of combating the climatic changes that are driving these environmental conditions. Our strategy is built on three lines of effort:

1. Advance United States Security Interests – We will enable our vessels and aircraft to operate, consistent with international law, through, under, and over the airspace and waters of the Arctic, support lawful commerce, achieve a greater awareness of activity in the region, and intelligently evolve our Arctic infrastructure and capabilities, including ice-capable platforms as needed. U.S. security in the Arctic encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from those supporting safe commercial and scientific operations to national defense.

2. Pursue Responsible Arctic Region Stewardship – We will continue to protect the Arctic environment and conserve its resources; establish and institutionalize an integrated Arctic management framework; chart the Arctic region; and employ scientific research and traditional knowledge to increase understanding of the Arctic.

3. Strengthen International Cooperation – Working through bilateral relationships and multilateral bodies, including the Arctic Council, we will pursue arrangements that advance collective interests, promote shared Arctic state prosperity, protect the Arctic environment, and enhance regional security, and we will work toward U.S. accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Law of the Sea Convention).

Our approach will be informed by the following guiding principles:

Safeguard Peace and Stability – Seek to maintain and preserve the Arctic region as an area free of conflict, acting in concert with allies, partners, and other interested parties. Support and preserve: international legal principles of freedom of navigation and overflight and other uses of the sea and airspace related to these freedoms, unimpeded lawful commerce, and the peaceful resolution of disputes for all nations.

Make Decisions Using the Best Available Information – Across all lines of effort, decisions need to be based on the most current science and traditional knowledge. 2

Pursue Innovative Arrangements – Foster partnerships with the State of Alaska, Arctic states, other international partners, and the private sector to more efficiently develop, resource, and manage capabilities, where appropriate and feasible, to better advance our strategic priorities in this austere fiscal environment.

Consult and Coordinate with Alaska Natives – Engage in a consultation process with Alaska Natives, recognizing tribal governments’ unique legal relationship with the United States and providing for meaningful and timely opportunity to inform Federal policy affecting Alaskan Native communities. (The White House)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Republicans Fighting EPA & Gina McCarthy Nomination


By Norris McDonald

The Center supports Gina McCarthy's nomination to be EPA administrator.  She was approved by the Senate before.  She should be again.

Republicans on the Senate Enviroment and Public Works Committee boycotted a proposed vote on the nomination this week.  On April 25, 2013 the Committee Republicans asked Chairman Barbara Boxer to postpone the nomination vote because they had not received answers to their questions. That request was denied. The Senators made the following statement today:
"For too long EPA has failed to deliver on the promises of transparency espoused by President Barack Obama, former Administrator Lisa Jackson, and by Gina McCarthy. Accordingly, the Republicans on the EPW Committee have asked EPA to honor five very reasonable and basic requests in conjunction with the nomination of Gina McCarthy, which focus on openness and transparency. While Chairman Boxer has allowed EPA adequate time to fully respond before any mark-up on the nomination, EPA has stonewalled on four of the five categories. We ask and expect that Chairman Barbara Boxer will follow the rules of the Committee and the full U.S. Senate."

Rule 2(a) of the EPW Committee rules require at least two members of the minority party to be present to constitute a quorum, which is necessary for the Committee to take action.

Rule XXVI 7(a)(1) of the Senate rules require that a majority of any Committee be physically present to take action. This is a requirement enforceable on the Senate floor, a fact confirmed by the Senate Parliamentarian's office.

On April 10, the EPW Republicans released five transparency concerns (four of which remain unresolved) they have with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Click here to read the letter to McCarthy outlining their requests. Click on each of these transparency requests to read about each in detail:

FOIA Failures,

Inconsistent E-mail Practices and Policies,

Transparency through Data Access,

Snapshot Approach Toward Economic Analysis Doesn't Work,

Share 'Intent to Sue' Notices with the Public.

(Senate Environment & Public Works Committee

Electricity Production From Plant Photosynthesis

Ramaraja Ramasamy, right, and Yogeswaran Umasankar
work together to capture energy created during photosynthesis.
Ramasamy is an assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering
 and Umasankar is postdoctoral research associate working i
n his lab. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Georgia)
Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering, is the author of a paper describing the process of how to get electrical power from sunlight using plant-based systems.  The process was published in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science. Plants are the undisputed champions of solar power. Most of them operate at nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency, meaning that for every photon of sunlight a plant captures, it produces an equal number of electrons. onverting even a fraction of this into electricity would improve upon the efficiency seen with solar panels, which generally operate at efficiency levels between 12 and 17 percent.

During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen, which produces electrons. These newly freed electrons go on to help create sugars that plants use much like food to support growth and reproduction.  The researchers have developed a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that they can capture the electrons before the plant uses them to make these sugars.

According to Ramasamy, who is also a member of UGA's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, the technology involves separating out structures in the plant cell called thylakoids, which are responsible for capturing and storing energy from sunlight. Researchers manipulate the proteins contained in the thylakoids, interrupting the pathway along which electrons flow.  These modified thylakoids are then immobilized on a specially designed backing of carbon nanotubes, cylindrical structures that are nearly 50,000 times finer than a human hair. The nanotubes act as an electrical conductor, capturing the electrons from the plant material and sending them along a wire.
In small-scale experiments, this approach resulted in electrical current levels that are two orders of magnitude larger than those previously reported in similar systems.

Ramasamy cautions that much more work must be done before this technology reaches commercialization, but he and his collaborators are already working to improve the stability and output of their device. In the near term, this technology might best be used for remote sensors or other portable electronic equipment that requires less power to run. The researcher believe that if they we are able to leverage technologies like genetic engineering to enhance stability of the plant photosynthetic machineries, they are very hopeful that this technology will be competitive to traditional solar panels in the future. (Science Daily, 5/9/2013)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Elizabeth "Izzy" Martin Recognized For Conservation Work

Oak Tree.jpg

Long time environmentalist Izzy Martin was recognized for her conservation work at an award ceremony during Bear Yuba Land Trust’s Annual Oak Tree Ball. This Celebration and Awards Dinner was held April 27, 2013 at the Alta Sierra Country Club in Grass Valley, California.    

Izzy_just_right.jpg During the event, Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin was recognized with the William Nickerl Award for Conservation Leadership. For 30 years, The Sierra Fund C.E.O. has been a leader in environmental advocacy and community organizing. She served as a Nevada County Planning Commissioner and later County Supervisor and led the fight to put the South Yuba River into the state’s Wild and Scenic river program.  In 2004, Izzy worked with Assemblymen John Laird and Tim Leslie to establish Sierra Nevada Conservancy. That same year, she took the helm at The Sierra Fund where she has helped secure millions in state funds for conservation in the Sierra Nevada, including the most recent Bear Yuba Land Trust acquisition of Rice’s Crossing.

Others recognized included:
Hank Meals, local archaeologist, writer and photographer received the John Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation    Award for Education. For a span of 25 years, Hank worked off and on as an archeologist for the Tahoe National Forest. He is the author of several books about trails: The River: Hiking Trails and History of the South Fork of the Yuba River and Yuba Trails 1 and 2 and is currently co-authoring a book about the Nisenan people. Hank began leading hikes for Bear Yuba Land Trust more than 20 years ago and his knowledge of local history and trails remain popular draws.

GregArchbald-ittybitty.jpg Greg Archbald
 received the John Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award for Volunteerism. As an environmental attorney, Greg helped stop development in Mineral King and along the coastlines of Marin and Sonoma. He co-founded the Trust for Public Land with Huey Johnson in 1972 and was instrumental in starting natural resource stewardship programs at the Golden Gate National Parks. For several years, Greg has worked to GPS, photograph and write about local trails as he develops an online trails portal for Bear Yuba Land Trust, the first of its kind in the region.

Letas_Blues-smallest.jpgFabulous local band Leta’s Blues provided live jazz and blues standards and original music for dancing.
Coming from very disparate musical backgrounds, the jazz and blues quartet have played together for five years and perfected a smooth and sultry sound.
Think Billie Holiday, Louis Prima, Chet Baker, Astrud Gibrelto....and some originals too.  The band is made up of upright bassist Dylan McConnell, drummer Ritchie O'Connell, guitarist Jerome Ali and singer Leta Gibney.

(Bear Yuba Land Trust)

Monday, May 06, 2013

European Carbon Market In Trouble

Europe’s climate change mitigation program turned carbon emissions into a commodity that could be traded like gold or oil. But the once-thriving pollution trade here has turned into a carbon bust.  Carbon started as the commodity of the future, but it has now deteriorated. Under the system, 31 nations slapped emission limits on more than 11,000 companies and issued carbon credits that could be traded by firms to meet their new pollution caps. More efficient ones could sell excess carbon credits, while less efficient ones were compelled to buy more. By August 2008, the price for carbon emission credits had soared above $40 per ton — high enough to become an added incentive for some companies to increase their use of cleaner fuels, upgrade equipment and take other steps to reduce carbon footprints.

That system, however, is in deep trouble. A drastic drop in industrial activity has sharply reduced the need for companies to buy emission rights, causing a gradual fall in the price of carbon allowances since the region slipped into a multi-year economic crisis in the latter half of 2008. In recent weeks, however, the price has appeared to have entirely collapsed — falling below $4 as bickering European nations failed to agree on measures to shore up the program.

The cap-and-trade program is based on a system of carbon allowances for large emitters such as utilities and manufacturers, with some bought and others awarded for free. Companies are allowed to draw on global mitigation projects — such as planting trees in tropical rain forests — to offset a small portion of their emissions. But for the most part, they must meet targets through carbon credits issued by European authorities.

At the core of the problem is a massive oversupply of carbon allowances. Demand for carbon began to fade in the late 2000s as a recession set in and factories across Europe dramatically curbed production. But there were also built-in flaws. Unlike newer cap-and-trade programs such as the one in California, Europe’s system never established a price floor that could have prevented a market collapse. In addition, too many free allowances were given to too many companies. Some, in fact, never had to pay for allowances at all, allowing them to hoard them or even sell their carbon credits at a profit.

On April 16, the European Parliament was on the verge of temporarily tightening the supply of allowances to boost the price of carbon and shore up the ailing market. But opposition by countries led by Poland — a nation strongly dependent on heavy-emitting coal power plants — defeated the measure. The rejection sent the price of carbon plummeting to a historic low of roughly $3.60.

The price per ton in California, for instance, is above $10 — about two and half times the price in Europe.

Critics argue that the low price of carbon has removed the incentive for European companies to reduce their carbon footprints. They point to a boom in the use of cheap imported American coal in European power plants. In addition, many fear that the lack of an incentive to make more green upgrades will create a boom in emissions if and when European economies recover.  (Wash Post, 5/6/2013

AB 32: New Challenge Targets California Cap-and-Trade Law

The California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) has again been sued over its implementation of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (also known as AB 32). The lawsuit, Morning Star Packing Co. et al. v. CARB, filed on April 16, 2013, resembles an earlier action brought by the California Chamber of Commerce (“CalChamber”) in November of 2012 (discussed here). Both cases allege that the auction of allowances under the cap-and-trade amounts to an illegal tax because AB 32 was not approved by two-thirds of both houses of the state legislature, as required by the California Constitution.

Where the two cases differ is that Morning Star adds explicit examples of how the alleged unconstitutional tax is causing petitioners to bear increased costs and expenses, an important element in establishing the standing of the petitioners. For example, Morning Star Packing Company, the only petitioner that is also regulated by the cap-and-trade, has purchased nearly $400,000 worth of 2013 vintage allowances. At stake is not only the future of one critical element of the cap-and-trade, but also revenue which over the life of the cap-and-trade program is expected to be between $7 and $75 billion.  (Marten Law)

EIS Requirements For Fracking on BLM Lands

NEPA: California Federal Court Requires Full Environmental Impact Statement for BLM Leases Involving Hydraulic Fracturing

In the first federal court decision to directly examine an agency’s review of the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, a federal magistrate judge in the Northern District of California ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when the agency failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to entering into two oil and gas leases with companies seeking to conduct hydraulic fracturing (commonly called “fracking”). Order Re Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, Center for Biological Diversity v. Bureau of Land Management, No. 11-06174 (N.D. Cal. filed Dec. 8, 2011).
The March 31, 2013 decision turned directly on a finding that increasing interest in hydraulic fracturing has rendered prior development forecasts in older Resource Management Plans (RMPs) and accompanying environmental reviews obsolete. The decision, if upheld, may cause BLM to require greater environmental scrutiny of hydraulic fracturing proposals on public lands, including preparation of an EIS. (Marten Law)

California Wildfires 2013

Unseasonal wildfires that started last week ravaged California. At least four large uncontrollable fires burned acreage and threatened homes in Northern and Southern California.  Fires burned in Riverside County, Tehama County, Glenn County and Ventura County.   In Northern California, a fire has blackened 11 square miles of wilderness in Tehama County.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, commonly known as Cal Fire, thousands of firefighters are fighting the fires using engines, bulldozers and aircraft worked to corral the blaze.

The Center is proposing to build woodchip-to-electricity plants (10 MW) in California that would use wood from wildfire areas pre-cut to prevent them from damaging valuable areas and destroying homes.  There is no reason that uncontrolled wildfires should be allowed to ravage California year after year.  Not only can the wildfires be contained, pre-cut wood can serve as a renewable resource for producing electricity.  The links below provide more information about our proposed program(s):

Green Electric California Biomass-To-Electricity Plant

Scoping Visit: Sacramento Outreach


Fire that moved through neighborhoods of Camarillo Springs and Thousand Oaks burned numerous homes and threatened thousands of homes.  The fire also swept through Point Mugu State Park, a hiking and camping area that sprawls between those communities and the ocean.  Fires burned in the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

A large blaze, the Panther Fire in Tehama County, burned nearly 7,000 acres by Sunday night and was concentrated in rugged terrain.  In Riverside County, the so-called Summit Fire was fully contained Saturday night after burning more than 3,000 acres, destroying a home and causing two injuries. The cause of it, too, remained under investigation.

The blazes are part of more than 680 wildfires in the state so far this year -- about 200 more than average. East of Los Angeles in Riverside County, a new fire that broke out Saturday afternoon burned 650 acres of wilderness south of Banning. (Fox News, 5/5/2013, NBC News, 5/6/2013, Cal Fire Current Fire Incident Information)

Saturday, May 04, 2013

USDA and EPA Release New Report on Honey Bee Health

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health. The report states that there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.

There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for our country's long term agricultural productivity. The forces impacting honeybee health are complex and USDA, will be engaged in addressing this challenge.

The decline in honey bee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors, and at EPA we are committed to continuing our work with USDA, researchers, beekeepers, growers and the public to address this challenge. The report we've released today is the product of unprecedented collaboration, and our work in concert must continue. As the report makes clear, we've made significant progress, but there is still much work to be done to protect the honey bee population.

In October 2012, a National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health, led by federal researchers and managers, along with Pennsylvania State University, was convened to synthesize the current state of knowledge regarding the primary factors that scientists believe have the greatest impact on managed bee health.

Key findings include:

Parasites and Disease Present Risks to Honey Bees:
  • The parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as the major factor underlying colony loss in the U.S. and other countries. There is widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control mites within the hive. New virus species have been found in the U.S. and several of these have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Increased Genetic Diversity is Needed:
  • U.S. honeybee colonies need increased genetic diversity. Genetic variation improves bees thermoregulation (the ability to keep body temperature steady even if the surrounding environment is different), disease resistance and worker productivity.
  • Honey bee breeding should emphasize traits such as hygienic behavior that confer improved resistance to Varroa mites and diseases (such as American foulbrood).
Poor Nutrition Among Honey Bee Colonies:
  • Nutrition has a major impact on individual bee and colony longevity. A nutrition-poor diet can make bees more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites. Bees need better forage and a variety of plants to support colony health.
  • Federal and state partners should consider actions affecting land management to maximize available nutritional forage to promote and enhance good bee health and to protect bees by keeping them away from pesticide-treated fields.
There is a Need for Improved Collaboration and Information Sharing:
  • Best Management Practices associated with bees and pesticide use, exist, but are not widely or systematically followed by members of the crop-producing industry. There is a need for informed and coordinated communication between growers and beekeepers and effective collaboration between stakeholders on practices to protect bees from pesticides.
  • Beekeepers emphasized the need for accurate and timely bee kill incident reporting, monitoring, and enforcement.
Additional Research is Needed to Determine Risks Presented by Pesticides:
  • The most pressing pesticide research questions relate to determining actual pesticide exposures and effects of pesticides to bees in the field and the potential for impacts on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.
Those involved in developing the report include USDA's Office of Pest Management Policy (OPMP), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Agricultural Research Services (ARS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), National Resource Conversation Service (NRCS) as well as the EPA and Pennsylvania State University. The report will provide important input to the Colony Collapse Disorder Steering Committee, led by the USDA, EPA and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

An estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honey bees. In the United States, pollination contributes to crop production worth $20-30 billion in agricultural production annually. A decline in managed bee colonies puts great pressure on the sectors of agriculture reliant on commercial pollination services. This is evident from reports of shortages of bees available for the pollination of many crops.

The Colony Collapse Steering Committee was formed in response to a sudden and widespread disappearance of adult honey bees from beehives, which first occurred in 2006. The Committee will consider the report's recommendations and update the CCD Action Plan which will outline major priorities to be addressed in the next 5-10 years and serve as a reference document for policy makers, legislators and the public and will help coordinate the federal strategy in response to honey bee losses.

To view the report, which represents the consensus of the scientific community studying honey bees.

IRS raises Production Tax Credit, Defines Eligible Construction Projects

During April 2013, the Internal Revenue Service increased the Production Tax Credit (PTC) from 2.2-cents/kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 2.3-cents/kWh to adjust for inflation. PTC is a financial incentive that supports the development of wind-powered generation. Also this month, the IRS released an advanced copy of Notice 2013-29, which describes the way projects under construction can now qualify for the credit.

At the beginning of the year, Congress extended the PTC through 2013 and expanded the credit to include projects that were able to commence construction in 2013, although the legislation did not provide guidance on what level of construction would need to be achieved to qualify.

The IRS notice describes two ways facilities can qualify:

1) if “physical work of a significant nature” has begun that includes a “contiguous program of construction,” or

2) a Safe Harbor provision can be met that includes incurring costs of 5% of more of the total cost of the facility in addition to an effort to continue construction.

Congress continues its examination of the Production Tax Credit, most recently with a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing exploring a Government Accountability Office study that examined several federal programs supporting wind energy. Members and witnesses debated the benefits to federal support for wind energy, as well as the support for wind energy compared to current incentives for oil and natural gas.  (ISO Newswire, 5/1/2013)
To learn more about the PTC, read the related articles.
Federal Update: PTC extension legislation passed

Federal Update: Uncertainty surrounds tax credit for wind energy in New England

U.S. Exports of Liquefied Petroleum Gases Projected to Continue Through 2040

In 2012, the United States became a net exporter of liquefied petroleum gases (LPG) for the first time. LPG includes the natural gas liquids (NGL) components ethane, propane, butanes, and marketed refinery olefins. In its Annual Energy Outlook 2013 (AEO2013), EIA projects that the United States will continue to be a net exporter of LPG through 2040, mainly because of continued increases in natural gas and oil production.

The supply of ethane and propane, in particular, is expected to grow because of increases in natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and in other shale areas. Pipeline companies plan to add more infrastructure to support LPG exports because of growing oil and natural gas production from shale gas and tight oil resources.

Net exports of LPG are projected to grow by more than a half-million barrels per day from 2011 to 201. In that scenario, LPG exports decline after 2017 as wet gas (containing liquids) production declines, resulting in lower NGL production from natural gas processors. Variations in NGL supply affect LPG exports.

AEO2013's High Oil and Gas Resource case projects higher levels of long-term net exports for two reasons:
  • Natural gas production is 36% higher in the High Oil and Gas Resource case than in the Reference case, and most of the difference is in shale gas production, which is heavy with liquids.
  • Tight oil production in the High Oil and Gas Resource case is projected to be more than double the level in the Reference case. Refinery processing of crude oil also contributes to the LPG supply. Industrial demand for LPG in the United States is not projected to keep pace with supply despite the number of ethylene crackers and other chemical projects under construction and planned through 2017. As a result, net LPG exports in the High Oil and Gas Resource case are 1.4 million barrels per day higher than in the Reference case by 2040.
Further detail on EIA's analysis of the effect of natural gas liquids growth can be found in the full Annual Energy Outlook 2013. (DOE-EIA)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ultra Supercritical Coal Power Plants

American Electric Power Co's Louisiana-based utility said its $1.8 billion Turk power plant in Hempstead County, Arkansas, has begun commercial operation, the nation's first ultra-supercritical coal-fired unit and one of the few coal plants currently being completed.  The 600-megawatt John W. Turk Jr. power plant is owned by Southwestern Electric Power Co (SWEPCO) and was built in about four years despite numerous legal challenges by local and environmental groups to stop the plant.

Turk uses an advanced coal combustion technology that burns low-sulfur coal at higher temperatures, which requires less coal and produces fewer emissions, including carbon dioxide, than traditional

Turk will supply power for SWEPCO's 406,000 retail customers in Louisiana and Texas, as well as about 400,000 customers of an East Texas electric cooperative.

In Arkansas, where the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed state regulatory approval allowing the plant to serve retail customers, Turk will sell power to SWEPCO's wholesale customers- the cities of Hope, Prescott and Bentonville - and the 490,000 customers of the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.
SWEPCO holds a 73 percent stake in the plant. Co-owners include the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp, 12 percent; East Texas Electric Cooperative, 8 percent; and the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority, 7 percent.

The project was announced in August 2006. An air permit issued in 2008 was the subject of a number of court appeals. In late 2011, SWEPCO announced a broad settlement to end pending legal challenges to the plant's air and wastewater permits brought by the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society and Audubon Arkansas.  (Reuters, 12/20/2013)