Energy & Environment

Is the Keystone XL Project in Jeopardy?

Brad Plumer in Vox: “The company trying to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline has given up all hope that President Obama will approve the project — and wants a final decision delayed until after the 2016 election.”

“In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the pipeline firm said it has just filed an application with Nebraska’s energy regulator over a new route, and that review process is expected to take 7 to 12 months. In the meantime, TransCanada wants the State Department to pause its own ongoing review.”

“One obvious possibility here is that TransCanada officials believed Obama was getting ready to kill the pipeline — so they’re making a last-ditch maneuver to postpone any any final decision until after the next election.”

“Obama could come out and say, nope, I’m rejecting this pipeline right here and now. Environmental groups like 350.org are currently urging him to do just that. A formal rejection would make life much more difficult for TransCanada. The company would either have to restart the difficult and costly application entirely from scratch — or, more likely, abandon the pipeline altogether.”

“Update: The White House said on Monday night that it still plans to make a final decision on Keystone XL before Obama leaves office.”

Texas Cities Lead in Green Power Government

Fuel Fix: “The EPA on Monday said the City of Dallas is now the largest local government user of green power in the nation, taking the top spot away from the City of Houston, which still ranks second above the District of Columbia, Montgomery County in Maryland, and the City of Austin — giving Texas municipal governments three of the top five spots nationally.”

“City facilities in Dallas recently switched from having half of their electricity backed by renewable energy credits. Now, 100 percent of the City of Dallas’ electricity comes from wind power through a contract Dallas-based TXU Energy. Much of the wind power comes from Chicago-based Invenergy, which has built several wind farms in Texas. TXU also works with the City of Dallas on energy efficiency projects, such as new lighting and lighting controls.”

“While Houston is known as the energy capital of the world for oil and gas, just more than half of the City of Houston’s electricity comes from green power sources — a mixture of solar and wind power through Houston-based Reliant Energy and on-site power generation.”

“Even when competing against public corporations, Dallas and Houston still count in the top 10 nationally for green power usage.”

America’s Cleanest Energy States

Eco Watch: “Modernize, a site that helps people make energy efficiency upgrades to their home, such as adding solar panels, has put together an extensive report on the state of renewable energy in America. Using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) from 1960 to 2013, America’s Cleanest and Dirtiest Energy States analyzes everything from total energy production from renewable sources to carbon dioxide emissions over time.”

“The EIA list of renewable energy sources runs the gamut from wind and solar, but also more controversial energy sources such as hydropower and biofuels, such as ethanol. Washington, which relies heavily on hydropower, tops the list.”

topstates

 

Solar and Wind Power Skyrocket; Fracking Falters

Dallas News: “While the production of fossil fuels drops in the U.S., solar and wind power is skyrocketing as technology and cheaper financing drive down the costs.”

“’In the U.S., we’ve known that wind energy can be cheaper than [natural] gas in some states, but solar is now inching toward that same milestone,’ said Jacqueline Lilinshtein, U.S. analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.”

“Texas leads the U.S. in wind power, with about 10 percent of its power from wind. California, Nevada and North Carolina are the nation’s top solar states and dominate the market.”

“The federal government expects a surge in renewable energy in the coming year, especially as solar expands from its traditional base of home rooftop panels to major utility-scale production.”

“‘U.S. solar and wind power generating capacity is expected to see double-digit growth in 2016,’ said Adam Sieminski, the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.”

This comes as America’s fracking boom is starting to falter. The crash in oil prices is shrinking the profits for drillers. Estimated U.S. crude oil production dropped by 120,000 barrels a day last month and is forecast to keep going down for most of the coming year at least.

Climate Change Could Cause Economic Damage

National Journal: “If left un­checked, cli­mate change could worsen the gap between rich and poor coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to a new study.”

“The study, pub­lished Wed­nes­day in the journ­al Nature, found that above a me­di­an ideal tem­per­at­ure, a warm­ing cli­mate stunts eco­nom­ic growth.”

“Over­all, un­mit­ig­ated cli­mate change could shrink the glob­al eco­nomy by 23 per­cent by the end of the cen­tury, based on cur­rent growth in car­bon-di­ox­ide emis­sions.”

“The au­thors looked at World Bank data for 166 coun­tries between 1960 and 2010, com­par­ing it with cli­ma­to­lo­gic­al data, and found that there was an ideal tem­per­at­ure at which coun­tries seemed to be best at eco­nom­ic pro­duc­tion: 13 de­grees Celsi­us, or roughly 55 de­grees Fahren­heit.”

“For coun­tries av­er­aging be­low that tem­per­at­ure, like those in Scand­inavia, a warm­er year meant more pro­duc­tion. Above the bench­mark, however, each de­gree meant less eco­nom­ic pro­duc­tion. That’s due to a vari­ety of factors, in­clud­ing re­duced ag­ri­cul­tur­al out­put and health prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with warm­er tem­per­at­ures.”

“The re­search­ers said that some coun­tries whose av­er­age tem­per­at­ure is be­low the 13-de­gree bench­mark—such as Rus­sia, Canada, and parts of Europe—would ac­tu­ally see an eco­nom­ic boost. In the poorest 40 per­cent of coun­tries, however, the eco­nom­ic hit could be as high as 75 per­cent by the end of the cen­tury.”

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Ramp Up

New York Times: “On Tuesday, a simple but sobering note predicting an imminent end to measurements of carbon dioxide in air lower than 400 parts per million was posted by the group at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography that has been carefully measuring the rising concentration of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere since 1958.”

https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/wp-content/plugins/sio-bluemoon/graphs/mlo_full_record.png

“This time, partially because of the impact of El Niño on precipitation and thus plant growth, the scientists foresee an accelerated rise, but an insufficient seasonal surge of photosynthesis to draw levels lower. The long lifetime of the gas, once released, and the slow response of humans in trying to constrain emissions mean it’ll almost surely take generations, at least, before numbers below 400 are revisited on the way down.”

2015 On Track to be Hottest Year Ever

Climate Central: “September 2015 was not only the hottest September on record for the globe, but it was warmer than average by a bigger margin than any of the 1,629 months in the records of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — that’s all the way back to January 1880.”

“The month continued a year of temperature superlatives that have 2015 virtually a lock to be the warmest year on record, topping the previous record set just last year.”

“This September came in at 1.62°F above the 20th century average of 59°F, NOAA announced Wednesday, making it the warmest September in the agency’s 136-year record. (NASA, which assimilates global data slightly differently, ranked it the second warmest September.) That’s the biggest departure from average for any month of any year in the record books.”

“The year is the warmest to-date of any year on record, according to NOAA, coming in at 1.53°F above the 20th century average and surpassing the previous records set in 2010 and 2014 by about 0.2°F.”

“While the strong El Niño is helping to drive this global heat, 2015 is currently about 0.3°F warmer over its first nine months than the same period of 1998, the last time there was such a blockbuster El Niño, Blunden said.”

Facing a Drop in Energy Use, Utilities Fight Back With Steep Fees

Wall Street Journal: “Electric utilities across the country are trying to change the way they charge customers, shifting more of their fixed costs to monthly fees, raising the hackles of consumer watchdogs and conservation advocates.”

“Now, many utility companies are seeking to increase their monthly fees by double-digit percentages, raising them to $25 or more a month regardless of the amount of power consumers use. The utilities argue that the fees should cover a bigger proportion of the fixed costs of the electric grid, including maintenance and repairs.”

“The problem for utilities is that many consumers are using less power these days, in large part because appliances and equipment are getting more energy efficient. Even though U.S. homes are getting bigger, energy consumption per square foot is going down, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. The rise of rooftop solar power in some parts of the country also is chipping away at power sales.”

Over 75% Now Say Climate Change is Occurring

Scientific American: “The latest UT Energy Poll released this morning reveals that U.S. attitudes on climate change have shifted significantly – and not just in the ways you might expect. Seventy-six percent of Americans now say that climate change is occurring–an increase from 68 percent just one year ago. Further, only 14 percent say it’s not, compared with 22% when we first asked the question in the Spring of 2012.”

“The increase in acceptance climate change is not merely reflective of shifting attitudes on the left, which only rose a few points to 90 percent over the last six months. Republicans who say that climate change is occurring jumped from 47 percent in March to 59 percent this September.”

The Hypocrisy of the U.S. Climate Policy: Profiting From Coal

Joby Warrick, in The Washington Post, writes about the U.S. coal export policy using coal from the Powder River Basin, the energy-rich region that spans northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana, “nearly all of it owned by the U.S. taxpayer.”

“The Obama administration is seeking to curb the United States’ appetite for the basin’s coal … Yet each year, nearly half a billion tons of this U.S.-owned fuel are hauled from the region’s vast strip mines and millions of tons are shipped overseas for other countries to burn. Government and industry reports predict a surge in exports of Powder River coal over the next decade, at a time when climate experts are warning of an urgent need to reduce coal burning to prevent global temperatures from soaring.”

“Each shipment highlights what critics describe as a hypocrisy underlying U.S. climate policy: While boasting of pollution cuts at home, the United States is facilitating the sale of large quantities of government-owned coal abroad.”

And “the government continues issuing new leases for Powder River coal, in ever greater quantities. The Interior Department is finalizing leases for 2.5 billion tons of Powder River coal, and agency documents released earlier this year propose making an additional 10 billion tons available for mining — and, potentially exporting — over the next 25 to 30 years.”

Despite Ambitious Climate Pledges, Achieving Climate Goals Will Take a ‘Miracle’

Brad Plumer in Vox recommends “this new paper in Environmental Research Letters by Glen Peters, et al. It’s the clearest presentation I’ve seen of how far off course the world is from its 2°C climate goal. And it explains why the United States, Europe, China, and even India would need to radically rethink their climate policies if we wanted to stay below that target.”

“In their paper, Peters and his co-authors sketch out a plausible carbon budget if we want a 66 percent chance of staying below 2°C … Roughly speaking, the world has just 765 gigatons of CO2 left to emit. We currently emit about 35 gigatons per year.”

“The authors then compared this carbon budget (the dark line) with what the United States, the European Union, and China are currently promising to do on emissions between now and 2030:”

The combined emissions from these three countries compared to global emissions, with the thick solid line representing a global pathway consistent with 2 °C.

“There’s a huge problem here: If the United States, EU, and China all followed through on their current emissions pledges, they’d consume practically the world’s entire carbon budget by 2030 — leaving only scraps for the rest of the world (the part shaded in gray).”

“Lately, a growing chorus of climate observers have been pointing out that without a massive and arguably infeasible course correction, the world simply won’t meet its goal of staying below 2°C of global warming … Add this paper to the pile. It concludes that there’s a ‘high risk of exceeding 2 °C given current trends.'”

Majority Think Candidates Should Understand Science

Think Progress: “When it comes to climate change, many politicians who reject mainstream climate science often claim, ‘I’m not a scientist.’

“According to a new poll, the majority of Americans are responding to that by saying, ‘Well, maybe you should be.’”

“In a public opinion poll commissioned by Research!America and ScienceDebate.org and conducted by Zogby Analytics, 87 percent of Americans said that they think candidates running for Congress or president should have a basic understanding of the science that informs public policy decisions. That opinion holds true across the political spectrum, with 92 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of Republicans, and 79 percent of Independents saying that it’s important to them that candidates have a baseline understanding of science.”

“Politicians weren’t always so far removed from science. Thomas Jefferson, in the Enlightenment tradition of his time, spoke five languages, had a keen interest in science, and was president of the American Philosophical Society. Abraham Lincoln, during his presidency, signed into law a bill that created the National Academy of Sciences. And Theodore Roosevelt, a noted outdoorsman and published ornithologist, oversaw the creation of the U.S. Forest Service.”

Debunking the Latest Argument to Ignore Climate Change

Jonathan Chait examines the latest argument: ‘Do you support President Obama’s EPA restrictions on emissions even though science reporters at the New York Times admitted in a recent story that restrictions will do nothing to combat climate change by themselves?’

“The New York Times story … does not say the Clean Power Plan will ‘do nothing.’ It says, ‘Mr. Obama’s new rules alone will not be enough to stave off that future.’ There is a difference between going part of the way toward solving a problem and doing nothing at all to solve a problem … Reducing emissions in the United States, the second-largest emitter in the world, will alleviate the problem without eliminating the problem.”

“Second, a major purpose of reducing American emissions is to encourage further international cooperation [and] that reducing American emissions is a necessary if not sufficient condition to produce an international agreement.”

“So to say that lower American emissions will not solve the problem “by themselves” is to introduce a caveat that makes the point meaningless. If you suffer a heart attack, calling 911 will not by itself prevent you from dying, because the ambulance might not make it to the hospital before you die. Buying groceries will by itself do nothing to prevent your children from starving, because, hey, maybe your kids won’t eat the food.”