Monday, September 30, 2013

EPA Listening Sessions on CO2 Reduction From Power Plants

UPDATE: EPA GHG Listening Sessions CANCELLED – The EPA was scheduled to begin 11 public listening sessions across the country this week in Boston and Philadelphia to solicit ideas and input from the public and stakeholders about the best Clean Air Act approaches to reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. Both have been cancelled because of the Shutdown even as for members from coal states call for more meetings in there region, which they say was purposely left off the list.

Other meetings are still on, but subject to change, include Wednesday October 23 in New York and Atlanta, Wednesday October 30th in Denver, Monday November 4th in Lexana, KS, Tuesday November 5th in San Francisco, Thursday November 7th in DC, Dallas and Seattle and finally, Chicago on Friday November 8th.

For more information on these sessions and to register online, go to EPA’s Site.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold 11 public listening sessions across the country to solicit ideas and input from the public and stakeholders about the best Clean Air Act approaches to reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. Power plants are the nation’s largest stationary source of carbon pollution, responsible for about one third of all greenhouse gas pollution in the United States.

The Clean Air Act gives both EPA and states a role in reducing air pollution from power plants that are already in operation. The law directs EPA to establish guidelines, which states use to design their own programs to reduce emissions. Before proposing guidelines, EPA must consider how power plants with a variety of different configurations would be able to reduce carbon pollution in a cost-effective way.

The feedback from these 11 public listening sessions will play an important role in helping EPA develop smart, cost-effective guidelines that reflect the latest and best information available. The agency will seek additional public input during the notice and comment period once it issues a proposal, by June 2014.

For more information on these sessions and to register online
. For those who cannot attend these sessions, input can be e-mailed by November 8, 2013.

More information about EPA’s carbon pollution standards for the power sector: 

 Public Sessions on Reducing Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants (all times are local):

DATE: Tuesday, October 15, 2013
TIME: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm EDT
US EPA New England
Memorial Hall
5 Post Office Square

DATE: Friday, October 18, 2013
TIME: 11:00 am – 2:00 pm EDT
US EPA Region 3
William J. Green, Jr. Federal Building
600 Arch Street

DATE: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
TIME: 9:00 am - 12 Noon; and 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm EDT
US EPA Region 2
290 Broadway, Room 27A
New York

: October 23, 2013
: 2:00 – 5:00 pm; and 6:00 – 9:00 pm EDT
US EPA Region 4
Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center
Bridge Conference Rooms
61 Forsyth Street, S.W.

: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm MDT (last 2 hours for call ins)
US EPA Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street

: Monday, November 4, 2013
TIME: 4:00 – 8:00 pm CST
US EPA Region 7
11201 Renner Blvd.

: Tuesday, November 5, 2013
: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
US EPA Region 9
75 Hawthorne St.
San Francisco

DATE: Thursday, November 7, 2013
TIME: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm EST
US EPA Headquarters
William Jefferson Clinton East
1201 Constitution Ave.
Washington, DC

DATE: Thursday, November 7, 2013
TIME: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm CST
US EPA Region 6
Auditorium- 1st floor
J. Erik Jonsson Central Library
1515 Young St.

DATE: Thursday, November 7, 2013
TIME: 3:00 – 6:00 pm PST
US EPA Region 10
Jackson Federal Bldg.
915 Second Ave.

DATE: November 8, 2013
TIME: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm CST
US EPA Region 5
Metcalfe Federal Building
Lake Michigan Room
77 W. Jackson Blvd.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fracking Natural Gas Gathering Pipelines: UNREGULATED

Thousands of miles of 'gathering lines' are now operating at high pressure to serve fracking operations, but regulators don't even know where they are.  Thousands of miles of pipelines are being built at natural gas drilling sites throughout the nation without supervision or regulation by state or federal authorities.  These specialized pipelines, known as gathering lines, carry gas from wells to nearby separation facilities for processing. Many of the pipes are as large as regulated pipelines and operate at the same or higher pressures. Some run close to homes and businesses.

Of the nation's 240,000 miles of gathering lines, only about 10 percent are regulated. When leaks or accidents occur on the remaining 90 percent, operators aren't required to notify regulators. In most cases, state and federal officials don’t even know where these lines are located.

Pipeline accidents involving natural gas are among the most feared industry accidents, because gas is so explosive. When a poorly maintained natural gas distribution pipeline exploded in San Bruno, CA. in 2010, eight people died and 38 homes were destroyed.
To try to prevent such tragedies, the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has traditionally focused on regulating transmission lines, which carry gas to refineries, and distribution lines, which carry gas to businesses and homes. Until the early 2000s, that approach seemed to make sense.

Earlier gathering lines were much smaller and operated at far lower pressures than transmission and distribution lines. Most were also in rural areas, where mishaps would be less likely to cause widespread damage or loss of life. But the technology that triggered the U.S. drilling boom—hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—has changed that equation. To accommodate the volume and pressure of the gas coming out of fracked wells, gathering lines are now 12 to 36 inches in diameter, instead of 2 to 12 inches. They operate at much higher pressures, too.

By 2020, the number of miles of gathering lines is expected to almost double, to
405,000. By 2035 about 654,000 miles are expected to be in place, according to the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, an industry group. Most gathering lines weren't built to accommodate inspection tools, so operators would have to stop production to conduct the inspections.

If more than 10 buildings are within 220 yards of a line, the gathering line must be regulated. If the buildings are outside the 220-yard radius, the line is not regulated.
Operators of regulated lines must give state or federal regulators details about their operations, including pipeline diameter, exact location and maximum operating pressure. They must also inspect and maintain their lines and report details of any accidents, including fatalities, injuries and property damages.

None of these fundamental practices are followed with unregulated pipelines.
Because PHMSA doesn't collect data about rural gathering lines, it's difficult to estimate how much damage they cause each year. In 2010, accidents on regulated gathering lines caused more than $15 million in property damage, or approximately $1.8 million per incident according to the GAO report.


In the past, gathering lines operated at pressures of between 5 and 800 pounds per square inch, according to the GAO. But the pressures increased when drilling companies began switching from traditional drilling techniques to hydraulic fracturing, which allows them to extract small molecules of gas trapped in shale rocks. During fracking, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is sent into the earth at a very high pressure in order to break up the rocks and release the gas. The gas is then discharged into the gathering lines at a similarly elevated pressure.

Last year Ohio passed an energy bill that included regulations for rural gathering lines. This year Texas passed similar legislation. In Texas, the state's Railroad Commission now has authority to regulate more than 154,000 miles of unregulated gas and liquid gathering lines. The Commission will begin evaluating the best way to move forward with determining the risks these facilities present to the public.  Inspections will begin on September 1, 2015.   (Inside Climate News, 9/26/2013)

Friday, September 27, 2013

IPCC Says Human Made Global Warming "Extremely Likely"

In a new report , the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called global warming “extremely likely,” whereas its previous assessment in 2007 said it was “very likely” that human activity is the dominant cause of the global warming observed since the 1950s.

One of the most controversial subjects in the 2,000-page report was how to deal with a purported slowdown in warming in the past 15 years. Climate skeptics say this “hiatus” casts doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change.  Many scientists say the purported slowdown reflects random climate fluctuations and an unusually hot year, 1998, picked as a starting point for charting temperatures. Another leading hypothesis is that heat is settling temporarily in the oceans, but that wasn’t included in the summary.

As expected, the IPCC raised its projections of the rise in sea levels to 10-32 inches by the end of the century. The previous report predicted a rise of 7-23 inches.

Going well beyond its four previous analyses of the emissions problem, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change endorsed a “carbon budget” for humanity — an upper limit on the amount of the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, that can be emitted from industrial activities and forest destruction.
To stand the best chance of keeping the planetary warming below an internationally agreed target of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels and thus avoiding the most dangerous effects of climate change, the panel found, only about 1 trillion tons of carbon can be burned and the resulting gas spewed into the atmosphere.
Just over half that amount has already been emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and at current rates of energy consumption, the trillionth ton will be released around 2040.      
The United States was for many decades the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, though it was surpassed a few years ago by China. It refused to agree to a treaty called the Kyoto Protocol that sought to limit global emissions, greatly weakening that effort, and efforts to pass a comprehensive climate policy for the United States failed soon after Mr. Obama took office. (Wash Post, 9/27/2013,  NY Times, 9/27/2013) 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

MGM at National Harbor

The Center supports MGM Resorts International's plans to construct and operate a casino and resort at National Harbor.

MGM Resorts International unveiled architectural renderings Wednesday for an $800 million casino and resort overlooking the Potomac River at National Harbor, the waterfront development in Prince George’s County.  The company is in the running for a casino license from Maryland that will allow for table games as well as 3,000 slot machines, a result of a decision last year by state and county voters to approve an expansion of gambling in Maryland.

An overhead rendering of the proposed MGM casino at National Harbor. (Courtesy MGM Resorts International)

To pick a site, a state commission plans to visit three locations in Prince George’s next month: National Harbor, Rosecroft Raceway and a vacant parcel in Fort Washington. The commission then plans to hold a series of public hearings to gather input before a selection, possibly by the end of the year. The new casino would be the state’s sixth, and it could open by mid-2016.

MGM’s plans call for an 18-story glass tower hotel, a seven-story parking garage and a pedestal “designed to evoke the plinth of a grand monument” like those along the Mall. In addition to the casino and hotel, the project would include restaurants, entertainment, upscale retail and a spa.

The complex, which would stretch 1,500 feet, would also include a reflecting pool with fountains that could be used for ice-skating in the winter.

The two other bidders for the Prince George’s license are Penn National Gaming, which owns Rosecroft Raceway, and a newly formed subsidiary of Greenwood Racing, which owns a Parx Casino north of Philadelphia and has proposed a similar venue on a 22-acre parcel at Indian Head Highway and Old Fort Road.  (Wash Post, 9/25/2013)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Megatons To Megawatts Program To Conclude at End of 2013

Photo of cylinder, as explained in the article text
Source: USEC Inc., with permission

In February 1993, the Russian Federation and the United States signed a 20-year, government-to-government agreement for the conversion of 500 metric tons of Russian highly enriched uranium from nuclear warheads to low-enriched uranium to fuel U.S. nuclear reactors. The agreement became known as the Megatons to Megawatts™ program. Over the life of the Megatons to Megawatts program, the low-enriched uraniam produced under the agreement provided about one-third of the enrichment services needed to fabricate fuel for U.S. nuclear reactors. The program will end in December 2013.

Uranium enrichment

Uranium is used to fuel nuclear reactors; however, uranium must be enriched before it can be used as fuel. Enriching uranium increases the amount of uranium-235 (U235) that can sustain the nuclear reaction needed to release energy and produce electricity at a nuclear power plant. Low-enriched uranium means uranium enriched below 20% U235. Normally, uranium used to fuel reactors is enriched to contain about 3% to 5% U235. Enrichment to levels of 20% or greater produces highly enriched uranium. Highly enriched uranium is used in research reactors and military applications. Highly enriched uranium may be downblended or diluted so that the amount of U235 is low enough to be suitable for commercial reactors.

Under the agreement, the United States formed the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), a government-owned corporation (privatized in 1998), and the Russian Federation designated Techsnabexport (Tenex) to implement the program. The terms of the agreement required that Russian highly enriched uranium be diluted or downblended to become low-enriched uranium in Russia and then shipped to the United States.

Low-enriched uranium is used to fabricate fuel for U.S. reactors. Once the United States receives the low-enriched uranium, Russia is paid for the work that was required to dilute or downblend the highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium, which is measured in separative work units (SWU). Russia also receives an equal amount of natural (unenriched) uranium.

The first shipment of low-enriched uranium under the Megatons to Megawatts program was made in 1995. Almost all U.S. reactors have used some fuel originating from this program. The program is 95% complete and has converted 475.2 metric tons of highly enriched uranium into 13,723 metric tons of low-enriched uranium.

In addition to the low-enriched uranium originating from the Megatons to Megawatts program, enrichment services were also provided by USEC's Gaseous Diffusion Plant, LES/URENCO's Gas Centrifuge Plant, as well as various foreign countries.

Although the Megatons to Megawatts program will expire this December, USEC Inc. signed a 10-year contract with Tenex in March 2011 to supply commercial-origin Russian low-enriched uranium to replace some of the material provided by the Megatons to Megawatts program. Deliveries under this contract begin in 2013 and are slated to continue through 2022. The contract also includes an option to double the amount of material purchased.

As under the Megatons to Megawatts program, USEC will pay Tenex the value of the work (measured in SWU) needed to create the low-enriched uranium and deliver an equal amount of natural (unenriched) uranium to Tenex. The new supply of low-enriched uranium from Tenex will gradually increase until 2015, when it reaches about half of the annual amount supplied under the Megatons to Megawatts program. The new contract will provide low-enriched uranium that can be used to fabricate fuel for U.S. reactors while USEC and others license, construct, and operate new U.S. facilities to produce U.S.-origin low-enriched uranium.  (DOE-EIA)

UN Secretary General To Convene Climate Summit in 2014

Ban Ki Moon
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to a 2014 “Climate Summit” in New York City aimed at boosting the odds of success in high-stakes final talks in France the following year.

The September 2014 event isn’t part of formal negotiations under U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Instead, Ban said it can help catalyze those talks, and urged nations to “seize the 2015 challenge” with next year’s event.

Ban urged nations to “innovate, scale-up, cooperate and deliver concrete action that will close the emissions gap and put us on track for an ambitious legal agreement.”

The formal UNFCCC meeting in late 2015 is aimed at crafting a binding global pact that would come into force in 2020. But negotiators face huge hurdles reaching a deal through the sprawling, fractious U.N. negotiations that have been on the brink of collapse at times.  (The Hill, 9/24/2013)

EPA Chief Begins Three-State Tour Highlighting Climate Action Plan

EPA Administrator visits New York, Wisconsin, and Michigan to discuss climate change, power plant announcement

Today U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will begin a three-day trip where she will speak to students, businesses and other stakeholders on EPA's recent carbon pollution standards proposal for new power plants, and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution. She will also discuss her vision for EPA and challenges the agency will face going forward.

On Wednesday, Administrator McCarthy will speak to Clinton Global Initiative attendees during a panel discussion titled, “Making the Case for Environmental and Sustainability Education.” She will be joined by representatives from the Captain Planet Foundation, Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation, African Wildlife Foundation and Earth University.

On Thursday, she will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. to deliver a keynote address to students, faculty and members of the public attending the Michigan Environmental Law and Public Health Conference at the University of Michigan Law School.
Friday in Madison, Wis., Administrator McCarthy will join Madison Mayor Paul Soglin to highlight EPA’s work with local communities to advance sustainability efforts through the MPower Business Champion Program. She will also deliver a keynote address at the Trout Unlimited Annual meeting. (EPA Press Release)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Request For Donation: Of Closed Coal Power Plants

The Center is issuing a general Request For Donation (RFD) from utility companies who choose to close coal electric generating stations in response to new global warming mitigation regulations.

The utility industry insists that the regulations for new and existing coal-fired power plants will lead their companies to close coal plants.  In the event of such closures, we want facilities, preferably in remote areas, to be donated to our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization.  Although we are willing to take responsibility for the properties and equipment, we need for the company to maintain responsibility for any pollutant remediation.

We intend to utilize the donated facility and property in a manner that is environmentally friendly and in the public interest.

Our RFD also extends to coal mines and rail lines (including rolling stock).

Please contact us if you are interested in our RFD.

President Obama's Climate Change Regulations For New Power Plants


By Norris McDonald

Global warming is the most important environmental issue facing the world.  President Obama's proposed climate change regulation to mitigate carbon dioxide from new power plants is a good first step.  I am concerned, however, with the utility industry's willingness and capability to capture carbon dioxide and store it.  However, I agree with The New York Times editorial board, which stated:
"Our advice to Mr. Obama and his new EPA Administrator Gina to push ahead."
We have a unique recommendation for President Obama and the utility sector:
The federal government should take ownership of carbon dioxide from new coal plants.  This responsibility would mirror that of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which established the federal government as the responsible party for spent nuclear fuel.
We have our doubts about sequestration, but we believe the federal government, via the Defense Department, could establish Energy Defense Reservations (EDR) in the various federal regions in order to convert carbon dioxide into diesel fuel.  This fuel could be used for military purposes, could be stored in salt domes similar to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and for distribution to the general public.  One complaint we here is that EDR would be expensive.  Our response is that ANY solution or solutions to mitigate global warming will be expensive.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last week that transportation of carbon dioxide is a major component in mitigating its entry into the atmosphere.  We agree.  The network of pipelines needed to deliver carbon dioxide from the new coal plants to the EDRs is a vitally important part of the mitigation plan.

Proposed EPA Climate Change Regulations

Friday, September 20, 2013

EPA Proposes Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants

Today, EPA proposed Clean Air Act standards to cut carbon pollution from new power plants built in the United States to combat climate change and improve public health.

For live updates throughout the day regarding today’s Clean Air Act announcement, follow @EPA and @GinaEPA on Twitter. We will be using the hashtag #ActOnClimate.
Watch a Vine of EPA administrator Gina McCarthy signing the proposed Climate Pollution Standards:
Watch her speech on the proposed rule here:
Read Administrator McCarthy’s op-ed in Huffington Post on why we’re taking action for our children and future generations:

Additional information on the new standards can be found on our website:

For the full news release:

BPC & NARUC Discuss CO2 Limits For Existing Power Plants

GHG Regulation of Existing Power Plants Under the Clean Air Act: What Is It and How Will It Work?
President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue final greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations for the existing fleet of power plants by June 2015. Understanding the mechanics of such regulations is essential for policymakers, industry and other stakeholders. To advance constructive dialogue on these new regulations, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Energy Project, along with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), is convening a series of workshops in the coming months.

On September 25, 2013, please join BPC and NARUC for the first workshop, which will provide an overview of the context, precedent, and contours of the future GHG regulation of existing power plants. The workshop will feature experts and key stakeholders who will share views on the potential form, contents, and challenges of EPA guidance to states regarding performance standards that represent the “best system of emission reduction” for existing power plants. The event will also offer an opportunity to discuss possible state options for implementing the emission reduction requirements.

Featuring keynote remarks from:

Heather Zichal
Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change

Introductory remarks from:

Jason GrumetPresident, BPC

Panel discussions featuring:
Hon. Philip Jones (WA)
President, NARUC
Hon. Robert Kenney (MO)
Chair of NARUC's Committee on Energy Resources and the Environment
Joseph Goffman
Senior Counsel to the Assistant Administrator, U.S. EPA
Senator Byron Dorgan (Ret.)
Senior Fellow, BPC
Former Senator of North Dakota
Ellen Anderson
Senior Advisor on Energy and the Environment to Minnesota’s Governor
Vicki Arroyo
Executive Director, Georgetown Climate Center
Chuck D. Barlow
Vice President of Environmental Strategy and Policy, Entergy Services, Inc.
Megan Ceronsky
Attorney, EDF
Steven Corneli
Senior Vice President, NRG Energy
Kyle Danish
Partner, Van Ness Feldman
David Doniger
Policy Director of Climate and Clean Air Program, NRDC
Kimberly Greene
President and CEO, Southern Company Services, Inc.
G. Vinson Hellwig
Chief of Air Quality Division, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Joe Kruger
Director for Energy and the Environment, BPC
John Lyons
Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy, Kentucky
Jennifer Macedonia
Senior Advisor, BPC

Wednesday, Sept. 25
Grand Hyatt
Constitution A/B
1000 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

Invitation transferable.
About the Bipartisan Policy Center
Founded in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a non-profit organization that drives principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation and respectful dialogue. With projects in multiple issue areas, BPC combines politically balanced policymaking with strong, proactive advocacy and outreach. For more information, please visit

Proposed EPA Climate Change Regulations

For New Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants

Today’s issuance of EPA's proposed regulation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions proposes to establish separate standards for fossil fuel-fired electric steam generating units (utility boilers and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) units) and for natural gas-fired stationary combustion turbines.

These proposed standards reflect separate determinations of the best system of emission reduction (BSER) for utility boilers and IGCC units and for natural gas-fired stationary combustion turbines.


EPA is proposing to set separate standards for certain natural gas-fired stationary combustion turbines and for fossil fuel-fired utility boilers and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) units. All standards are in pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (lb CO2/MWh gross).

• EPA is proposing two limits for fossil fuel-fired utility boilers and IGCC units, depending on the compliance period that best suits the unit. These limits require capture of only a portion of the CO2 from the new unit. These proposed limits are:

o 1,100 lb CO2/MWh gross over a 12-operating month period, or
o 1,000-1,050 lb CO2/MWh gross over an 84-operating month (7-year) period

• EPA is proposing two standards for natural gas-fired stationary combustion units, depending on size. The proposed limits are based on the performance of modern natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) units. These proposed limits are:

o 1,000 lb CO2/MWh gross for larger units (> 850 mmBtu/hr)
o 1,100 lb CO2/MWh gross for smaller units (≤ 850 mmBtu/hr)

A modern coal plant without carbon controls would release about 1,800 pounds per megawatt hour.  A modearn natural gas plant releases about 800 pounds per megawat hour.

At this time, the EPA is not proposing standards of performance for modified or reconstructed sources. EPA is expected to propose emissions limits for existing plants by June 2014.

There is a 60-day comment period from today.  The Clean Air Act gives a one-year timeframe to finalize these regulations. 

To meet the standard, new coal-fired power plants would need to install expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground (carbon capture and storage - CCS). No coal-fired power plant has done that yet, in large part because of the cost. And those plants that the EPA points to as potential models, such as a coal plant being built in Kemper County, Miss., by Southern Co., have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants and tax credits.

The regulation will almost certainly be litigated once it becomes final.  The legal argument will probably be based around whether carbon capture and storage is a demonstrated technology.  (EPA, EPA Fact Sheet, Huff Post, 9/19/2013)

2013 Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Is This The Environmentally Friendly Phone of the Future?

Rim Fire Kills Everything in 60 Square Miles of 400 Square Mile Fire

California's Rim Fire that burned in forest land in and around Yosemite National Park has left a contiguous barren moonscape in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The fire has consumed about 400 square miles, and within that footprint are a solid 60 square miles that burned so intensely that everything is dead.  In total, it is estimated that almost 40 percent of the area inside the fire's boundary is nothing but charred land. Other areas that burned left trees scarred but alive.
In this September 2013 photo provided by the U.S. ForestRim Fire aftermath: Soils scientist in Rim Fire burn area Service, a soils scientist from the Burned Area Emergency Response team assesses a burn area in the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif. Of the more than 250,000 acres that burned within the Rim Fire perimeter, the National Park Service’s Burned Area Emergency Response team estimated Monday Sept. 16, 2013, that 7 percent burned at high severity, 37 percent at moderate severity and the other 56 percent either didn’t burn or burned at low severity.
 A soils scientist from the Burned Area Emergency Respone Team assess a burn area in The Rim fire near Yosemite National Park, California
The fire has not left such a contiguous moonscape since before the Little Ice Age, which began in 1350.  In the decades before humans began controlling fire in forests, the Sierra would burn every 10 to 20 years, clearing understory growth on the ground and opening up clearings for new tree growth. Modern-day practices of fire suppression, combined with cutbacks in forest service budgets and a desire to reduce smoke impacts in the polluted San Joaquin Valley, have combined to create tinderboxes.  Drought, and dryness associated with a warming climate also have contributed to the intensity of fires this year.

Some areas of the Stanislaus National Forest ravaged by the Rim Fire had not burned in 100 years. Most of the land that now resembles a moonscape burned on Aug. 21 and Aug. 22. 

Rim Fire aftermath: Deer returns to Rim Fire area.
A deer returns to its home range in the Rim Fire area near Yosemite National Park, Calif.

Short-term impacts in the park could include the displacement of a unique and threatened subspecies of great gray owls that makes home in treetops in the fire's range.
The Rim Fire started Aug. 17, when a hunter's fire spread, and continues to burn. It is named for a ridge near the location where the fire started — The Rim of the World, an overlook above a gorge carved by the Tuolumne River.

Severe soil damage occurred on just 7 percent of the land inside the fire's footprint, said officials with the federal Burned Area Environmental Response team. Fire can destroy soil and make it susceptible to erosion by either burning the fine roots and other organic matter that holds it together, or by burning chaparral that releases oils that create an impervious barrier preventing rainwater from being absorbed. (MSN News, AP Photo: U.S. Forest Service, Brad Rust, AP Photo: U.S. Forest Service, Louis Haynes)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

House Energy & Commerce Committee Climate Hearing

The Subcommittee on Energy and Power holds a hearing today at 10:15 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn House Office Building. 

The hearing is entitled “The Obama Administration’s Climate Change Policies and Activities.

Gina McCarthy
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Ernest Moniz
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
The following Federal agencies were invited to attend, but declined to provide a witness:
  • Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Department of Defense (DOD)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • Department of the Interior (DOI)
  • Department of State (DOS)
  • Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
  • U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
(House Subcommittee on Energy and Power)

Monday, September 16, 2013


There are 3,200 utilities that make up the U.S. electrical grid, the largest machine in the world.

These power companies sell $400 billion worth of electricity a year, mostly derived from burning fossil fuels in centralized stations and distributed over 2.7 million miles of power lines.

Regulators set rates; utilities get guaranteed returns; investors get sure-thing dividends.

It’s a model that hasn’t changed much since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.

(Business Week, 8/2/2013)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Federal Judge Upholds Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan

U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo on Friday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s sweeping plan to limit pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, derailing the farm lobby’s attempt to stop one of the largest efforts to clean a waterway in the nation’s history. The ruling means EPA is within its rights under the Clean Water Act to partner with the six states in the bay watershed to cut the pollution that pours in from sewers and construction developments, and particularly chemical and biological waste from farms.

Rambo wrote:
“The ecological and economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay is well documented. As the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is essential for the well-being of many living things. While noting attempts to protect this important resource” without strong federal coordination for several years, nutrient pollution and sedimentation remain a critical concern. The court endorses the holistic, watershed approach used here. This approach receives ample support in the [Clean Water Act], its legislative history, and Supreme Court precedent.”
The EPA embarked on an aggressive cleanup effort in 2010 that required Chesapeake Bay states, including Virginia and Maryland, as well as the District, to upgrade sewers to limit the amount of nutrient pollution that pours into the bay.  States also were required to find ways to stop agricultural runoff from cattle feed operations, chicken houses and other farms.

The American Farm Bureau Federation filed a lawsuit in early 2011 at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to stop the EPA. Numerous organizations, including the Fertilizer Institute, National Pork Producers Council and National Chicken Council, joined the suit.   The Farm Bureau said the bay’s cleanup is the sole responsibility of states and the EPA lacked authority to establish a “pollution diet” costing taxpayers and farmers billions by its full implementation in 2025.

The lobby argued further that the EPA did not give the public adequate time to consider the plan in the run-up to its implementation in December 2010, saying that a 45-day comment period was too short.

Rambo rejected those arguments. “The court does not find the 45-day public comment period to be unreasonable. For one, it exceeds the statutory minimum requirement of a 30-day period.”

In a statement Friday, the EPA called the ruling “a victory for the 17 million people in the Chesapeake Bay watershed” and said its partners can refocus on achieving clean-water goals, “building on the progress already happening.” (Wash Post, 9/13/2013)

NuScale Nuclear & Partners Pursue DOE Funding

Nuclear technology developer NuScale Power has designed a small modular reactor (SMR) that can be built in a factory and installed as individual modules of 45 megawatts (MW) each. The light water reactor technology SMR units are smaller than traditional nuclear, which can be as large as 1,300MW or more in terms of capacity.  The company traces its origins to work by co-founder Jose Reyes at Oregon State University more than a decade ago.

NuScale has added new support from the private and public sector as it pursues funding from a Department of Energy (DOE) cost-sharing program that targets commercial operation for SMR technology by 2025.

Oregon-based NuScale Power is expected to receive funding from the U.S. Departemnt of Energy (DOE) this month.  Its bid for DOE funding has been helped by its partnering with and receiving support from Rolls-Royce. As part of the collaboration announced in August, London-based manufacturing giant Rolls-Royce provided support with development of the DOE application, and has engineers on-site at NuScale's test facility assisting with technology development.  NuScale submitted its application for DOE funding in early July, and the department is slated to award funds on September 17.

In 2011, Fortune 500 engineering and construction firm, Fluor Corporation, became the majority shareholder in NuScale.

After securing more than 90 patents and conducting years of tests at a scale model of the module, NuScale recently announced that it has achieved what it calls the "Triple Crown" of nuclear safety:  1) shut-down and self-cool indefinitely with no operator action, 2) no AC or DC power, and 3) no additional water. It's the type of feature, known as passive safety, which could have prevented or mediated impacts of a Fukushima-type disaster.

Several Congressional delegations and state leaders in supporting NuScale. The Oregon delegation sent a letter to DOE Secretary Moniz on July 26 urging him to fully and carefully consider the company's proposal" for the funding opportunity.  Oregon Governor Kitzhaber supports the NuScale proposal. Utah Governor Gary Herbert has added his voice in support of NuScale with another letter to the Energy Secretary.

A coalition of Western states, known as Western Initiative for Nuclear (WIN), is participating in a new program to develop and potentially deploy a NuScale project in the region.  The group will study the potential for developing a multi-unit demonstration plant by 2024, possibly at the Idaho National Laboratory. The initiative involves Energy Northwest and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, with the endorsement of the states of Idaho, Oregon and Arizona.

NuScale Reactor Diagram

The first plant would likely be built and operated by a consortium of regional utilities, with the potential for similar plants to be built in other states in the long term. Energy Northwest is a joint operating agency for 27 public utilities in Washington and operates the Columbia nuclear plant. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems provides wholesale power to 45 public utilities in Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming.

Large power plants of all stripes can face challenges in financing, procurement and labor. In a 2010 report on SMR technology.  Large reactors are not always the best option for smaller power producers. With the ability to add anywhere from 45 to 540MW of power, factory-built, smaller-scale and more flexible SMR modules are a promising option for clean and reliable power. (The Hill, 9/9/2013, NuclearStreet, 7/2/2013)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Nuclear Waste Confidence Rule Public Comment Period

Three Federal Register notices published today:

1) The NRC’s proposed Waste Confidence rule for public comment:

2) The NRC’s Notice of Availability for the Waste Confidence draft generic environmental impact statement (DGEIS)

3) The Environmental Protection Agency’s Notice of Availability of the Waste Confidence DGEIS: 
The publication of these notices starts the 75-day public comment period on the Waste DGEIS and proposed rule.
The public comment period ends on Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
Comments received after November 27, 2013, will be considered as practicable. However, the NRC can only guarantee consideration of comments received on or before November 27, 2013.
In addition to presenting oral comments at any of our twelve public meetings, there are many ways to submit written comments on the DGEIS and proposed rule. The NRC gives all comments equal weight, no matter who submits them or how they are submitted. You can submit written comments through any of the methods below.
E-mail comments, citing Docket ID No. NRC–2012–0246 
Submit comments online using Docket ID No. NRC–2012–0246  

(Direct link to comment submission:)

Mail comments to:

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, DC 20555-0001
ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff
Fax comments to
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
301-415-1101, citing Docket ID No. NRC–2012–0246
Hand-deliver comments to 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852, between 7:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Federal workdays; telephone 301-415-1677.
If you have any questions about the information in this e-mail please contact Sarah Lopas at (301) 287-0675. For additional details on our 12 public meetings and how to register to attend these meetings, please go to the Waste Confidence Public Involvement webpage.

Take Action: Urge NOAA to Strengthen Proposed Bluefin Tuna Protections

The Pew Charitable Trusts' Environmental Initiative

PEG - Bluefin tuna promo.jpgEarlier this year, you and more than 190,000 others urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to protect depleted bluefin tuna from wasteful surface longline fishing. In response, NOAA recently released proposed measures aimed at protecting this incredible fish. While the proposed rule is a start, changes are needed to better protect bluefin.

Surface longlines, stretching up to 40 miles and strung with hundreds of baited hooks, catch target fish, such as swordfish, and more than 80 unintended marine species, such as bluefin tuna. In 2012, because of this uncontrolled catch, surface longline fishermen exceeded their bluefin quota and were required to throw back, dead, almost 25 percent of the entire U.S. bluefin allotment. Much of this waste occurred in important areas off North Carolina and in the Gulf of Mexico, the only known spawning ground for western Atlantic bluefin tuna.

NOAA’s bluefin protection proposal is a step in the right direction, but we need your help to improve it. Please join us in calling for greater bluefin protections in the Gulf of Mexico, fair bluefin quota allocations, increased monitoring of the longline fleet, and an end of the waste of this incredible fish. (PEW)

Send your letter now!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The White House Backs Senate Energy Efficiency Bill

Jeanne Shaheen
Rob Portman
The White House is backing the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 (S. 1392), that is sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and pending on the Senate floor.

The White House, in a statement, stated the bipartisan energy efficiency bill (text) complements key energy efficiency dimensions of the President’s Climate Action Plan.

The bill contains measures to boost building codes, train workers in energy efficient building technologies, help manufacturers become more efficient and bolster conservation efforts at federal agencies, among other provisions.

The White House statement:
The Administration supports S. 1392, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013. This bipartisan legislation would codify and enhance existing Federal programs, further supporting successful efforts to reduce energy waste through building energy codes and industrial energy efficiency programs and by identifying efficiency opportunities in Federal buildings. S. 1392 complements key energy efficiency dimensions of the President’s Climate Action Plan that will work to cut carbon pollution and begin to slow the effects of climate change, so that we can leave a cleaner and more stable environment for future generations.

Energy efficiency is a large, low‐cost, and underutilized U.S. energy resource. Increased energy efficiency offers savings on energy bills, opportunities for more jobs, and improved industrial competitiveness, and it will lower air pollution. The Administration strongly supports improving energy efficiency in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors and in the Federal government.

S. 1392 would build on the momentum established by the Administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy, supporting the President’s goal to cut in half the energy wasted by U.S. homes and businesses by 2030. From supporting States and local governments with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investments (which has led to over one million homes being weatherized and to other local energy efficiency improvements), to partnering with companies and businesses to reduce their energy bills through the Better Buildings Initiative, to Federal administrative actions to cut energy use across Federal facilities, the Administration is committed to winning the future by catalyzing a homegrown, clean energy economy in the United States.

S. 1392 will support the Administration’s efforts to strengthen U.S. competitiveness through significant research and development investments in manufacturing innovation and productivity, such as the Department of Energy’s recently launched Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative. This initiative focuses on growing U.S. manufacturing of clean energy products, boosting U.S. manufacturing competitiveness across the board by increasing manufacturing energy productivity, and providing training and technical assistance for manufacturers.

The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with the Congress on this bipartisan legislation to support energy efficiency and boost U.S. competitiveness and job creation.
(The White House, The Hill)