Tuesday, September 30, 2014

China and India Put Economy Before Climate Change

Indian leaders did not attend the climate meetings at the UN in New York last week, but they did push back on President Obama’s plea for “every country” to help cut carbon pollution. Late last week, India’s environment minister told the media his nation’s top priority is boosting the economy and relieving poverty, not climate change.  Prakash Javadekar said India won’t offer a CO2-reduction plan before next year’s climate talks in Paris, and that any actions the country takes would just lower the rate of increase in carbon emissions for at least the next 30 years.
Javadejar said 20% of the Indian population doesn’t have access to electricity, and that’s their top priority. He added: “We will grow faster, and our emissions will rise.” Javadekar also pushed the need for action back on developed countries. He said the US and others have had more than a century to burn fossil fuels and that the “moral principle of historic responsibility cannot be washed away.”
The docket maintained by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) now contains a white paper produced by the delegation from China that raises some interesting points about Chinese positions on carbon regulation.
Seeming to reject the Obama Administration’s leadership on climate, the paper explicitly makes China’s commitment “dependent on the adequate finance and technology support provided by developed country parties” and insists that cash payments from the West come from “new, additional, adequate, predictable and sustained public funds". It regards the current commitment of $100 billion from Western nations as only a “starting point” and calls for elimination of intellectual property claims regarding green technologies developed in the US and elsewhere.  (Frank Maisano)

Department of the Interior Releases Desert Renewables Plan

The Department of the Interior released a draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) last week. The plan is a landscape-scale blueprint that is the result of an extensive public participation process, which included collaboration among the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and other stakeholders.

The public will have until January 2015 to provide additional comments on the draft plan, which includes lands in Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

The draft DRECP proposes to protect areas in the California desert important for wildlife, recreation and other uses while streamlining permitting in areas appropriate for siting of solar, wind and geothermal energy projects and associated transmission. The plan presents six alternative approaches for meeting renewable energy and conservation goals through 2040. Each alternative proposes a different conservation design and configuration of lands available for streamlined renewable energy permitting.

The plan also includes an analysis of the potential environmental impacts of these alternatives. The draft plan has three key components that support the goals of the DRECP including:
1) the BLM’s Land Use Plan Amendments would designate renewable energy development areas and promote conservation of wildlife, cultural, and recreational values in other areas, including by expanding National Conservation Lands, across the 10 million acres of public lands in the planning area;

2) the FWS’s General Conservation Plan would allow the FWS to streamline the permitting process for renewable energy applicants on non-federal lands that agree to comply with the terms and conditions of the General Conservation Plan; and

3) CDFW’s Natural Community Conservation Plan would identify and provide for the regional or area-wide protection of plants, animals, and their habitats, while allowing compatible and appropriate economic activity.  (Frank Maisano, DRECP)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Aviation and Climate Change

Aviation emissions are small compared with emissions from road transport and electricity generation, but are potentially large compared with other sectors. In 2010, emissions from aviation were about 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (slightly more than half being international), compared to 17 percent for road transport and 35 percent for electricity.

Even with a growth rate of around 3 percent per year, forecasts suggest these emissions would be perhaps 5 percent of global emissions by 2050. After electricity and road transport, however, one quickly reaches sectors that are emitting only 5 percent of total emissions (e.g., petroleum refining is about 5 percent).

A key question for market-based programs is either how to allocate allowances in a cap-and-trade program or how to spend revenue under a levy. Giving out allowances to airlines for free in a competitive industry like aviation is likely to generate windfall profits, as occurred in deregulated power markets in the EU ETS. Auctioned allowances and levies will raise revenue for the government that could be used to reduce other taxes. (The Hill, 9/26/2014, Billy Pizer)

District Department of the Environment Approves First Stormwater Retention Credit Trade

The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) has approved a trade of 11,013 Stormwater Retention Credits (SRCs). This trade, valued at $25,000, is the first in the nascent SRC trading program, which is the first of its kind in the nation.

The Center operates a clearinghouse, the Stormwater Credit Exchange (SCE), to promote the DDOE's Stormwater Retention Credits Program.

The trade demonstrates how the SRC market can provide meaningful financial returns for voluntary installations of green infrastructure that reduce harmful stormwater runoff.

Under the District’s current stormwater management regulations, development projects permitted after January 2014 must meet river-protecting stormwater retention standards and can meet a portion of this requirement by using SRCs. Projects using SRCs must own them by the end of construction, which typically takes a year or longer.

The SRC market is expected to grow as additional regulated projects are completed. Trades provide a strong incentive for voluntary installations of green infrastructure.
Revenue from this trade will help cover the costs of designing, installing, and maintaining the rain gardens that generated the SRCs.

In addition to providing compliance flexibility for regulated development, SRC trading can increase the total volume of stormwater runoff being kept out of District waterbodies and provide other sustainability benefits, such as reducing the urban heat island effect and providing green jobs. (DDOE)

For more information, visit www.ddoe.dc.gov/src. For information about the regulatory requirements for retaining stormwater, triggered by certain types of construction projects, see www.ddoe.dc.gov/swregs.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Obama Seeks $900 Million For Land & Water Conservation Fund

The Obama administration is pushing Congress to triple the amount of money available for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which officials use to acquire land, build recreation facilities and maintain parks. The program is likely to be renewed before it expires next year, but President Obama’s push for a funding increase is meeting resistance.

House Republicans say the additional funding would be wasteful and allow the federal government to unnecessarily snatch up more private and state land.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has led the administration’s promotional efforts for the fund, touring the country, joined at times by agency leaders, other federal officials, lawmakers, state or local officials.

In addition to renewing the 50-year-old program, Jewell wants access to the full $900 million annual budget it is supposed to have. Revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling deposits $900 million into the fund every year, but congressional appropriators have only given Interior and the Forest Service one-third of that, amounting to $305.5 million in fiscal 2014.

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have signed onto a bill with 40 Democrats that would renew the fund indefinitely and give federal officials access to the full $900 million.  Even though Graham and Burr are the only Republican supporters of the measure, Graham said it’s something conservatives can get behind. (The Hill, 9/25/2014)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

President Obama Climate Change Speech at the United Nations

President Obama on Tuesday delivered a climate change speech at the United Nations, telling 125 leaders that they are “the last generation” with the power to prevent a global catastrophe.

The White House Blog Coverage


“No nation is immune,”

“We cannot condemn our children and their children to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair,” Obama said. “Not when we have the means and the technological innovation and scientific imagination to begin repairing it right now.”

“We recognize our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to combat it.”

“It must be ambitious,” Obama said of a prospective deal. “It must be inclusive because every country must play its part, and yes it must be flexible because different nations have different circumstances.”

He reiterated the U.S. target to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, and said new post-2020 targets for cutting emissions would be announced early next year.

The administration has acknowledged that it will not be able to agree to a new, legally binding U.N. treaty on climate change, given opposition in Congress. As a result, there has been talk at the U.N., which Obama alluded to on Tuesday, of an agreement to reduce carbon emissions through public, voluntary commitments.

Poor countries have been hesitant to set high targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, citing the cost to their economies and the potential for reducing growth.

The president used the speech to unveil a new set of tools that the U.S. will provide to vulnerable countries to help them bulk up their defenses against devastating weather conditions brought about by global warming. The assistance will include scientific data and advanced technology — though Obama did not commit any U.S. dollars to a fund meant to help poor countries.

Obama would need congressional “buy-in” to provide money for a fund meant to help developing countries protect themselves from rising tides and other effects of global warming, and to get them to move to renewable energy.

The fund was first announced in 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen. France, South Korea, Denmark and Mexico were among the nations to commit money to the fund on Tuesday. The United States did not.

Obama highlighted rules he’s proposed for existing power plants that are expected to cut emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

The power plant rules have been a major issue in congressional races around the country, where Republicans have sought to leverage anger with Obama to win back the Senate’s majority.

Obama described the power plant rules as the single biggest step the United States has taken to combat greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

Obama also signed a new executive order on Tuesday that directs every federal agency to consider climate resilience to drought, wildfires, floods and other extreme weather when crafting international development programs and investing overseas.

Obama attended the summit with two of his top climate deputies, Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy and senior White House adviser John Podesta, who helped trumpet the president’s climate agenda.  (The Hill, 9/23/2014)

Monday, September 22, 2014

EPA Announces Grant Opportunities to Reduce Diesel Emissions at Ports

Today, EPA announced the availability of up to $5 million in grant funding to establish clean diesel projects aimed at reducing emissions from marine and inland water ports located in areas of poor air quality.

Older diesel engines emit large amounts of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOX) and particulate matter (PM). These pollutants are linked to a range of serious health problems including asthma, lung and heart disease, and other respiratory ailments. Most of the country’s busiest ports are located near large metropolitan areas and, as a result, people in neighboring communities are exposed to high levels of diesel emissions. Since most ships and equipment at ports run on diesel engines, clean diesel projects at ports will produce immediate emissions reductions and provide health benefits to those living and working in the area.

This is the second grant competition to focus on reducing emissions at ports under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA). Under this competition, EPA anticipates awarding between two and five assistance agreements. Applicants may request up to $2 million in funding toward eligible projects. Port authorities, governmental or quasi-governmental public agencies that operate ports, and state and local governments with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality are eligible to apply. Community groups, terminal operators, shipping carriers, and other related entities are encouraged to participate through partnerships with eligible applicants. Projects may include drayage trucks, marine engines, locomotives, and cargo handling equipment at marine or inland water ports. Funding is limited to projects at ports located in areas of poor air quality, as determined by the Administrator.  (EPA)

The list of eligible areas for this RFP

All proposals must be received by December 11, 2014. For more information and to access the Request for Proposals and other documents.  

People's Climate March

Biggest Climate Change Demonstration In History


On Sunday, the People's Climate March, which included a crowd estimated by organizers at more than 300,000, marched through central Manhattan in the biggest climate-related demonstration ever held. The massive rally, which was mirrored by smaller protests in other cities around the globe, drew not only environmental activists but also college students, labor groups, A-list Hollywood celebrities such as actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, and politicians including former Vice President Al Gore and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D).  Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York has committed the city to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 (his announcement).

World leaders are at the United Nations this week, at the invitation of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to “champion an ambitious vision anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement” on climate change next year.

On Sunday in New York City, the marchers gave a message of alarm to world leaders set to gather this week at the United Nations for a summit meeting on climate change.
They marched through Midtown, from Columbus Circle to Times Square and the Far West Side, the People’s Climate March.  It was joined, in solidarity, by demonstrations on Sunday across the globe, from Paris to Papua New Guinea.
Like the march, the summit meeting on Tuesday at the United Nations will be flush with speeches intended to build support for addressing climate change. But the gathering of world leaders is not meant to be a formal negotiating session for a potential 2015 agreement.

(Wash Post, 9/21/2014, NYT, 9/21/2014, NYT, 9/21/2014)

Obama To Address United Nations Climate Change Summit

President Obama addresses 125 heads of state at a United Nations climate change summit on Tuesday, Sept 23, where he wants to lay the groundwork for a global accord on greenhouse gas emissions.  Obama will call on global leaders to "step up to the plate and raise their level of ambition" when considering actions to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This should be interesting considering that America is doing basically nothing to address global warming.
McCarthy, Obama, Podesta
President Obama will be accompanied by White House adviser John Podesta, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and the State Department's climate envoy Todd Stern.   Everything points to Paris 2015 for the White House, where countries will work to sign a global climate change treaty that would set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 
A number of world leaders will be absent from the event, however, notably Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The administration says it isn't concerned that the leaders of the No. 1 and No. 3 emitters of greenhouse gases in the world — China and India, respectively — will be absent from the summit because both countries will represented by high-ranking officials.
The Obama administration rolled out more executive actions related to climate change.  The proposed standards would mandate that the nation's fleet of existing power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. While Obama will be playing up those rules at the summit.  Such rules can be easily reversed by the next president.
Last week, the administration unveiled voluntary commitments from refrigerant companies and food retailers to phase out the use of a popular coolant, and hydrofluorocarbons, which are 10,000 times more potent than carbon.

Obama also took executive actions to boost renewable energy and efficiency projects in rural areas, and launched a job program that will train 50,000 people, including veterans, as solar panel installers.  (The Hill, 9/22/2014)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Virginia Governor McAuliffe Supports Gas Pipeline Proposal

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

The Center supports the proposal.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

NRC Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Rule

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

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

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

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

Norris McDonald at spent fuel reprocessing facility in France

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

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

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

Dry cask storage behind secure fencing.

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

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

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

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

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

Norris McDonald at Yucca Mountain

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

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

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

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