Energy & Environment

Lax EPA Regs Allow Biomass to Pollute More Than Coal

InsideClimate News: “A new study charges that government regulations for biomass plants are riddled with loopholes that allow wood-burning facilities to spew more toxic emissions in the air than coal-fired power plants.”

“The findings are refueling a controversy over whether biomass should be treated as a renewable energy fuel and able to qualify for green incentives, or as a fossil fuel like coal.”

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“The study, conducted by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), found that biomass facilities release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as 100 percent more than other air pollutants.”

The loopholes include: “EPA giving biomass plants a ‘free pass’ on limiting CO2 emissions; states not requiring operators to control short-term air emissions spikes at smaller facilities; and states not mandating extra monitoring at plants that burn wood waste, which emit more toxic pollutants.”

Mary Booth, the study’s author says that “biomass should be regulated the same way as coal: ‘We’re talking about the same pollution, the same health effects, but biomass plants get to emit two and a half times as much.'”

Transportation Pollution Biggest Threat to Global Climate

Bloomberg: “Emissions from transportation may rise at the fastest rate of all major sources through 2050, the United Nations will say in a report due April 13. Heat-trapping gases from vehicles may surge 71 percent from 2010 levels, mainly from emerging economies, according to a leaked draft of the most comprehensive UN study to date on the causes of climate change.”

“Rising incomes in nations like China, India and Brazil have produced explosive demand for cars and for consumer goods that must be delivered by highway, rail, ship or air. The new pollution, measured in millions of tons of greenhouse gases, may exceed all of the savings achieved through initiatives like subsidies for public transport and fuel efficiency.”

“Global car sales will rise 4 percent to 70.2 million in 2014 from last year, and are forecast to jump 27 percent by 2020, according to IHS Inc. The researcher expects demand to peak around 100 million units.”

“A decrease in emissions may come from government policies to change driving behavior, investments in public transport, substituting oil-based fuels in cars, ships and airplanes with natural gas, biofuels or renewable electricity, and new technologies such as lightweight vehicles and electric cars.”

California Legislature Proposes Fracking Moratorium

L.A. Times: “A bill that would place a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in oil drilling in California was approved by a state Senate panel on Tuesday.”

“The measure was passed by a bare majority of five votes by the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee after some Democrats abstained and Chairwoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) provided a courtesy vote to keep the issue alive for more discussions that could end up changing the bill.”

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said “a moratorium was needed to allow a definitive study of the health effects of fracking on communities located nearby, including the Inglewood oil field in her district.”

Taking Action on Climate Change: Tone Down the Hysteria

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger make the case that real progress on climate change is in danger of being stymied by hysterical rhetoric.

“More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.”

“A frequently cited 2009 study in the journal Science Communication summed up the scholarly consensus. ‘Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern … They clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.’”

“Many climate advocates ignore these findings, arguing that they have an obligation to convey the alarming facts.”

“What works, say environmental pollsters and researchers, is focusing on popular solutions.”

Andrew Revkin concurs, citing a recent article by Columbia University’s Earth Institute director Steven Cohen, to make his case.

“The piece appropriately decries caricatured, baseless attacks on climate science by conservative ideologues and those seeking to delay a shift away from fossil fuels. But Cohen also criticizes climate campaigners and some in the media for responding with oversimplified predictions of environmental doom.”

Cohen stresses “the importance of government policies that can drive the development and dissemination of low-carbon energy technologies.”

Fox News Rarely Gets Climate Change Right

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that 28% of Fox News’s reporting on climate change in 2013 was accurate — a big improvement from the 7% accuracy rating in 2012.

As Dylan Byers notes, other networks achieved far greater accuracy: “70% of CNN’s 43 segments on climate change were entirely accurate, while 92% of MSNBC’s 132 segments on climate change were entirely accurate.”

The Guardian: “These findings help explain why Americans tend to be relatively poorly informed about climate change. 38% of American adults watch cable news, with Fox News having the largest viewership. Only two-thirds of Americans accept that climate change is occurring, and less than half of Americans recognize that it is largely due to human activities. This is a stark contrast to the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming.”

Climate Change a Polarizing Issue Under Obama

Timothy Cama comments on the widening divide between advocates and skeptics over climate change, “with both sides growing more certain of their convictions.”

“Experts and lawmakers broadly agree that climate change has become a more polarizing issue during President Obama’s time in the White House.”

“While Democrats feel that drastic government actions are necessary, Republicans are wary of taking aggressive steps that could stifle the economy, and question whether the scientific proof is strong enough to justify such action.”

“The skepticism of Republicans is exacerbated when Democratic lawmakers and Obama push for new regulations, such as the push for stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.”

“If there is on area of climate change policy where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground, it is on energy efficiency. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have strong bipartisan support for legislation they’ve sponsored that would incentivize energy efficiency in homes, commercial buildings, industry and the federal government.”

Experts Urge Obama to Reject Keystone XL

The Hill: “More than 100 scientists and economists sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry Monday urging them to block the Keystone XL pipeline project, saying it would worsen climate change.”

“’We must address climate change by de-carbonizing our energy supply,’ the writers said. ‘A critical first step is to stop making climate change worse by tapping into disproportionately carbon-intensive energy sources like tar sands bitumen.'”

“Over its 50-year expected lifetime, the pipeline would produce the equivalent of 8.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. ‘These are emissions that can and should be avoided with a transition to clean energy,’ the scientists and economists said.”

New Health Concerns Related to Fracking Operations

A new study conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project reveals that “most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don’t catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production.”

“A health survey the group released last year found that people who live near drilling sites in Washington County, Pa., in the Marcellus Shale, reported [health problems] which could be caused by pollutants known to be emitted from gas sites.”

“While residents want to know whether gas drilling is affecting the air near their homes—where emissions can vary dramatically over the course of a day—regulators generally use methods designed to assess long-term, regional air quality.”

“They’re ‘misapplying the technology,’ said lead author David Brown, who conducted the study with three of his colleagues at the Environmental Health Project.”

“Stuart Batterman, an environmental health sciences professor at the University of Michigan, said the study underscores the need for specialized monitoring programs that target community health.”

EPA Failed to Disclose Health Risks in Pollution Study

The Hill: “The Environmental Protection Agency got a slap on the wrist from its internal watchdog Wednesday for withholding information about potential risks to participants in studies on pollutants.”

“The Office of Inspector General found that although the EPA obtained approvals from participants before exposing them to airborne exhaust and diesel pollutants, it did not disclose that inhalation could cause cancer.”

“The EPA’s own research found that the chance of getting cancer from the two hours of exposure for the study was about 3 in 1 billion.”

Americans Favor Energy Conservation Over Production

Gallup: “Americans still prefer energy conservation over production. After dwindling in recent years, Americans’ long-standing preference for emphasizing conservation over production in U.S. energy policy has rebounded, now matching levels seen in prior years.”

Americans' Preferences for U.S. Energy Policy

“Two-thirds of Americans favor increased government spending to develop solar and wind power, and spending more to develop alternative fuels for cars has the same level of support.”

“Additionally, more than 60% of Americans favor a variety of proposals that would regulate or limit fossil fuel emissions, including setting higher pollution standards for business and industry.”

Implications: “Americans continue to see alternative energy and energy conservation as better approaches to addressing the nation’s energy problems than producing greater supplies of traditional energy like oil, coal, and gas.”

Fracking in the Marcellus Shale Yields Profits for Gas Producers

FuelFix: “The Marcellus Shale is starting to prove that, given time, its proximity to the East Coast can make it profitable for those who got in early, according to a Moody’s report issued Tuesday.”

“’Marcellus’ size and geographic location near the high-demand U.S. Northeast and Midwest markets give gas producers there a distinct advantage over their competitors elsewhere in the US,’ Moody’s wrote.”

“Operators in the Marcellus also have benefited from greater demand for natural gas on the East Coast for power and heating, as well as the demand for natural gas liquids. New technologies, such as pad drilling, also have helped operators make these wells more productive, further adding to their profitability.”

Climate Change Report Highlights Multiple Challenges

Jason Samenow notes that a careful reading of the latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes that “climate change is just one of many drivers of future environmental woes, that there are significant uncertainties in the future pace of climate change and that the effects will be spread out unevenly. And furthermore, they note the report finds some adaptation measures show promise for coping with global warming’s worst effects.”

“A take-home theme of this latest IPCC report and past editions – conveyed across the the board –  is that climate change risks increase dramatically the more it warms, and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions lowers the risk of the most unwelcome consequences (and need for adaptation).”

Infographic showing the risk of climate change for different degrees of warming (IPCC)

“Irrespective of whether climate change is the primary cause of future challenges or a contributing factor, the report stresses the need for adaptation initiatives to confront its risks to agriculture, water resources, and human health among other areas.”

Exxon to Shareholders: Climate Change Won’t Stop Fossil Fuels

The Hill: Fossil fuels aren’t going anywhere, regardless of climate change, ExxonMobil said in a report to its shareholders.

AP: Exxon issued a report Monday on the risks that climate change policies could pose to the company’s assets and future profitability in response to shareholder concerns that the assets that underpin the company’s value will be worth less as society restricts consumption to fight climate change.

“Governments are ‘highly unlikely’ to adopt policies that sharply cut emissions because they would choke economic growth.”

A Visual Summary of the IPCC Climate Report

The latest climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes a number of helpful charts.

CarbonBrief: “The IPCC estimates climate change will have some significant impacts. This map illustrates where it expects them to hit.”

“Each symbol on the map represents a different impact. If the symbols are filled in, it means climate change is thought to have a major contribution to the problem.”

“If they’re empty, it means climate change is thought to make a minor contribution. The small dashes indicate the level of confidence the IPCC has about the findings (with five dashes meaning confidence is “very high”, and one dash meaning it’s “very low”).”

“As the map shows, the IPCC expects climate change to have a major impact on glaciers, snow and ice in all regions (excluding small islands), … [and] a major effect on rivers, lakes, floods, and drought in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and the Arctic.”

IPCC AR5 WG2 impacts map