Wednesday, November 26, 2014

EPA Proposes Smog Standards

Based on extensive recent scientific evidence about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone, or smog, EPA is proposing to strengthen air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment, while taking comment on a level as low as 60 ppb. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the standards every five years by following a set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts.

EPA last updated these standards in 2008, setting them at 75 ppb. EPA scientists examined numerous scientific studies in its most recent review of the ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update.  Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb -- the level of the current standard -- can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. 

Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints. People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include people with asthma, children, older adults, and those who are active or work outside. Stronger ozone standards will also provide an added measure of protection for low income and minority families who are more likely to suffer from asthma or to live in communities that are overburdened by pollution.

According to EPA’s analysis, strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days. Strengthening the standard to a range of 70 to 65 ppb would better protect both children and adults by preventing more than 750 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays.

EPA estimates that the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs.  If the standards are finalized, every dollar we invest to meet them will return up to three dollars in health benefits. These large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects valued at $6.4 to $13 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $19 to $38 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 65 ppb.  Annual costs are estimated at $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb.  

A combination of recently finalized or proposed air pollution rules – including “Tier 3” clean vehicle and fuels standards – will significantly cut smog-forming emissions from industry and transportation, helping states meet the proposed standards.  EPA’s analysis of federal programs that reduce air pollution from fuels, vehicles and engines of all sizes, power plants and other industries shows that the vast majority of U.S. counties with monitors would meet the more protective standards by 2025 just with the rules and programs now in place or underway. Local communities, states, and the federal government have made substantial progress in reducing ground-level ozone. Nationally, from 1980 to 2013, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. EPA projects that this progress will continue.

The Clean Air Act provides states with time to meet the standards. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards. To ensure that people are alerted when ozone reaches unhealthy levels, EPA is proposing to extend the ozone monitoring season for 33 states. This is particularly important for at-risk groups, including children and people with asthma because it will provide information so families can take steps to protect their health on smoggy days.

EPA is also proposing to strengthen the “secondary” ozone standard to a level within 65 to 70 ppb to protect plants, trees and ecosystems from damaging levels of ground-level ozone. New studies add to the evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone stunts the growth of trees, damages plants, and reduces crop yield.  The proposed level corresponds to levels of seasonal ozone exposure scientists have determined would be more protective.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by October 1, 2015. (EPA)

The proposal 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Keys Energy Center To Build Power Plant in Maryland

Keys Energy Center, a subsidiary of Genesis Power LLC, is a planned 780Mw combined cycle, natural gas-fired electric power generating facility located on 30 acres of a 170-acre parcel 1.25 miles east Brandywine. The estimated assessed value of the plant, which will generate enough electricity, according to Genesis, to power roughly 500,000 homes, will be $627 million. 
The County Council on Nov. 6 approved a payment in lieu of taxes for the plant project, under which Genesis will pay Prince George's $43.4 million over 18 years, roughly half of what it would have paid with no tax break. The Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission will receive $12.7 million over the life of the PILOT. The annual PILOT payments decline year-over-year as a result of plant depreciation.
The Keys Energy Center will be financed by EIF Keys LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of EIF United States Power Fund IV LP, a $1.7 billion private equity fund.
The project, located on a former gravel mine, will feature two combustion turbine generators, two heat-recovery steam generators, one condensing steam turbine generator, an air-cooled condenser, and a natural gas-fired boiler. It will connect to Pepco's power grid via a transmission line that passes adjacent to the plant, and an on-site substation. There will be a 140-foot-tall stack, and an anticipated 272 warm and hot start-ups per year.
The rural Brandywine site was chosen, according to Genesis, to minimize impacts on ecology, air quality, water supply, view sheds, noise pollution, transmission capacity and "adverse social economic impacts." On Oct. 31, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved the project, reporting "no witnesses or local residents objected to construction and operation of the project on any grounds."
Construction of the Keys Energy Center is expected to take 32 months and require 400 workers. Genesis will need another 25 full-time employees to manage the plant once it is operational in 2017.  (Washington Business Journal, 11/12/2014)

Keystone Pipeline Fails In Senate: Warren Buffet Benefits


By Norris McDonald

I have written about how any rejection of the shortcut Keystone Pipeline addition will benefit Warren Buffet by shifting transportation of the Canadian oil from pipeline to rail.  Buffet owns the rails that would transport that oil.  The U.S. Senate just voted to kill the Keystone Pipeline (even though it is already operating) by one vote (59 - 41) [S. 2280]*.  The approval of the pipeline needed 60 votes to be approved.

Buffet is banking on cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline to increase his share of oil-by-rail shipments.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway announced through a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it bought $524 million worth of Suncor stock last quarter. Suncor is a Canadian oil company that derives most of its current oil production -- and future expansion plans -- from Alberta's oil sands. 

Buffett bought Suncor to help ensure a steady supply of oil for his Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) railroad.  Oil currently accounts for about 4% of BNSF's freight. That's expected to double over the next several years. 

Suncor owns huge tracts of oil sands resources from which oil production is projected to continue to grow.

Suncor doesn't have the same transportation issues as some other oil sands producers. It has locked up more than enough pipeline and rail capacity to move its current and planed production for several years. Plus, it owns several refineries, which help the firm avoid having to sell its crude for the depressed, mid-continent prices.

* S. 2280 uthorizes TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. to construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline and cross-border facilities specified in an application filed by TransCanada Corporation to the Department of State on May 4, 2012.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Low Gasoline Prices Leading To More Guzzler Purchases

Over the last month consumers have shown a fresh interest in the kind of SUVs — Hummers, Lincoln Navigators, Ford Explorers — that typified America’s bigger-is-better mindset of twenty years ago. The new mindset among some car buyers is a consequence of a domestic oil boom that has helped cause global crude prices to plummet in recent months, with the cost of a gallon of gas now below $3. 

As oil prices hit a three-year low, it creates the potential to push the U.S. further away from its dreary post-recession mindset, leaving instead a nation with more affordable air and road transportation options, higher consumer confidence, and more gas guzzlers driving around.
Demand in developed countries (including the United States) is down over the last few years, the result mostly of improving automotive fuel efficiency. Meantime, supply is way up, helped by U.S. wildcatters riding the “fracking” boom in the prairies of North Dakota and the plains of Texas.
The current $78 for a barrel of the benchmark West Texas Intermediate could scale back exploration and production plans if prices continue to drop.
Before the financial crisis, trucks almost always outsold cars, in some months grabbing as much as 59 percent of the market. Post-recession, the industry has flip-flopped; cars are more popular.
But not in recent months. In September, the truck market share was 53.5 percent. In October, it was 53.6. That is the best sustained two-month stretch since 2005.
The environmental concerns are significant. All told, automobiles account for about 50 percent of an average household’s emissions, but that can swing widely based on the vehicle. A big SUV will produce about three times the annual greenhouse gas tonnage emitted by a Prius. (Wash Post, 11/10/2014)

Monday, November 10, 2014

President Obama's Net Neutrality Plan

The President's Statement
An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.

“Net neutrality” has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.

When I was a candidate for this office, I made clear my commitment to a free and open Internet, and my commitment remains as strong as ever. Four years ago, the FCC tried to implement rules that would protect net neutrality with little to no impact on the telecommunications companies that make important investments in our economy. After the rules were challenged, the court reviewing the rules agreed with the FCC that net neutrality was essential for preserving an environment that encourages new investment in the network, new online services and content, and everything else that makes up the Internet as we now know it. Unfortunately, the court ultimately struck down the rules — not because it disagreed with the need to protect net neutrality, but because it believed the FCC had taken the wrong legal approach.

The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone. I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online. The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:
  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs, and can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital. But combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.
The rules also have to reflect the way people use the Internet today, which increasingly means on a mobile device. I believe the FCC should make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, while recognizing the special challenges that come with managing wireless networks.
To be current, these rules must also build on the lessons of the past. For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business. That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information — whether a phone call, or a packet of data.
So the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.
Investment in wired and wireless networks has supported jobs and made America the center of a vibrant ecosystem of digital devices, apps, and platforms that fuel growth and expand opportunity. Importantly, network investment remained strong under the previous net neutrality regime, before it was struck down by the court; in fact, the court agreed that protecting net neutrality helps foster more investment and innovation. If the FCC appropriately forbears from the Title II regulations that are not needed to implement the principles above — principles that most ISPs have followed for years — it will help ensure new rules are consistent with incentives for further investment in the infrastructure of the Internet.
The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy — and our society — has ever known. The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet. I thank the Commissioners for having served this cause with distinction and integrity, and I respectfully ask them to adopt the policies I have outlined here, to preserve this technology’s promise for today, and future generations to come.

Friday, November 07, 2014

DOE Funds Cyber Attack Prevention Program For Utilities

The Department of Energy, as part of the Cybersecurity Risk Information Sharing Program (CRISP), awarded Norse Corp. a $1.9 million contract to give utilities within the program early warning of potential cyberattacks.  Since 2010 the Department of Energy has invested more than $150 million in cybersecurity research, development and commercialization projects led by industry, universities and national labs.

Norse runs a network of eight million sensors and crawlers that continuously analyze Internet traffic to identify compromised hosts, malicious botnets and other sources of digital attack. The network, located in data centers in 50 countries, also contains honeypots that emulate electrical industrial control systems, to lure in adversaries and determine which nation-states are probing certain types of software in the electric grid.

The announcement between CRISP and Norse marks the latest support by the federal government for platforms that facilitate cyberthreat information sharing between organizations. It also comes as Norse itself fends off a distributed denial of service attack against its own servers.

CRISP began over the past several years as a small DOE-funded pilot with five electric sector companies to help facilitate two-way sharing of unclassified and classified threat information. Previously utilities had complained that the government was not doing enough to share threat intelligence. In August, the CRISP program transitioned to an industry-managed and funded public-private partnership, managed by the Electricity Sector Information Sharing and Analysis Center, according to an October 31 blog post.

For utilities, having bigger picture threat information is quite useful.  There are some concerns about the type of information utilities are asked to share in CRISP, such as internal email and Web searches by employees. Municipal utilities can’t afford to hire cybersecurity experts, so access to the data Norse provides can be helpful in preventing a massive breach.

The contract with Norse is intended to give utilities access to early indicators of threats before they land in an energy company network. Norse will integrate its live attack intelligence with hardware from network security company FireEye Inc. to provide live threat analysis of traffic within and outside of the networks of energy companies participating in CRISP.

While there are other threat intelligence services, Norse differentiates itself in terms of the scale and velocity of information it can process. The company is registered as an Internet service provider (with only one customer, itself) but it processes data on a similar scale to a tier 1 ISP. It is in 50 countries, in 200 data centers and processes 160 terabytes of traffic per day.

Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks try to flood a target’s servers with Internet traffic in order to knock it offline. (WSJ,  11/6/2014)

2 Japanese Nuclear Reactors Approved For Restart

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has described nuclear power as essential to economic growth because Japan is now relying mostly on imported natural gas and coal for power.

One of the last major hurdles to restarting nuclear reactors in Japan was cleared Friday when a southern prefecture gave its approval.  Kagoshima prefecture’s decision clears the way for two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. to reopen as soon as early next year, giving the nation its first electricity from nuclear power since September 2013 when the last of 48 reactors went offline.

Japan toughened safety regulations after the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The two reactors in the Kagoshima prefecture city of Satsuma Sendai cleared the regulations earlier this year.

Polls have consistently shown the public opposed to nuclear restarts by a 2-to-1 margin. In a poll conducted Oct. 18-19 by Kyodo News, 60% of respondents said they were against restarts, while 31% were in favor. Still, in the same poll, 48% said they supported the Abe administration, in line with other recent polls.

Other power companies hope to follow Kyushu Electric Power’s lead and reopen reactors next year. However, many of the nation’s 48 reactors are aging or located in seismically sensitive zones, and it is unclear when, if ever, the nation will once again get a significant portion of its power from nuclear plants.

The nuclear outages have hit the local economies of cities where plants are located, and electricity prices nationwide have risen some 20% since 2011 to cope with the rising cost of imported fuel.  (WSJ, 11/7/2014)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Availability of 2013 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data

The Air Resources Board (ARB) and Québec’s ministère du
Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre
les changements climatiques (MDDELCC) will release the 2013
greenhouse gas emissions data at 12:00 pm (noon) Pacific Time,
3:00 pm Eastern Time, on Tuesday, November 4th. 

The California 2013 GHG emissions data was collected under the
ARB’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program and will be
posted on ARB’s Mandatory Reporting webpage at:

The Quebec 2013 GHG emissions, for emitters subject to the
Regulation respecting a Cap-and-Trade System for greenhouse gas
emission allowances (Cap-and-Trade Regulation), were reported and
verified under the Regulation respecting mandatory reporting of
certain emissions of contaminants into the atmosphere and will be
available at: 

Background and History


The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32, or AB
32) requires ARB to adopt regulations for the mandatory reporting
of greenhouse gas emissions. The Regulation for the Mandatory
Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions went into effect on January
1, 2009. Over 700 entities, including facilities, fuel
suppliers, and electric power importers, are required to report
their greenhouse gas emissions data to ARB. Emissions data
reports from entities with 25,000 metric tons carbon dioxide
equivalent or greater emissions must be verified by
ARB-accredited third-party verifiers. The information in the
emissions data reports is used to support ARB’s climate change
programs, including California’s Cap-and-Trade Program.

More information about the Mandatory GHG Reporting Program is
available here: 


The Cap-and-Trade Regulation is intended for businesses that emit
25,000 metric tons or more of CO2 equivalent annually, reported
and verified under the Regulation respecting mandatory reporting
of certain emissions of contaminants into the atmosphere,
excluding emissions specified in the second paragraph of section
6.6. For the first compliance period (2013–2014), only the
industrial and electricity sectors are subject to the
Cap-and-Trade System. However, with the start of the second
compliance period (2015-2017) in January 2015, businesses that
distribute fuel will also be subject to the Cap-and-Trade

More information about the Cap-and-Trade System is available

California is in a drought emergency.
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