Energy & Environment

Energy Department to Give Green Light for $8.3 Billion Nuclear Reactors

National Journal: “Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will announce Wednesday that he is giving final approval for a multibillion-dollar loan guarantee for the first nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. in more than 30 years.”

“The licensee for the reactors, Southern Company, received conditional approval of the $8.3 billion loan guarantee in February 2010. Once made final, the loan will help support construction of two new reactors at the company’s Vogtle plant in Waynesboro, Ga.”

Obama Uses Executive Power to Curb Truck Pollution

President Obama used his executive powers to take action against greenhouse gas pollution by directing the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new regulations for the reduction of carbon emissions from heavy-duty trucks.

New York Times: “The president said the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency would draft new fuel economy standards for trucks by March 2015 so that they could be completed a year after that as he rushes to put in place a new regulatory structure before leaving office.”

“Car and truck manufacturers in the United States have lobbied heavily against aggressive increases in federal fuel economy standards, saying that they could increase vehicle prices and diminish safety.”

“Pollution from transportation is the nation’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.”

Extreme Weather Reignites Coal Debate

The recent extreme weather has reignited the debate about the administration’s move to impose regulations on coal-fired power plants.

Politico: “The coal industry and its supporters in Congress are sounding the alarm. They note that many of the older coal-fired power plants that have helped fill the gap this winter are due to shut down next year because of the Obama administration’s environmental rules.”

“Supporters of the environmental rules call the warnings of blackouts overblown, saying the nation is simply shedding dirty coal plants that can’t compete in the marketplace.”

“Much of the country has moved since the late 1990s away from a tightly regulated power supply toward a free-market approach … Operators of coal and nuclear plants say those markets don’t place enough value on stability and reliability, and instead base decisions on the lowest price, giving the advantage to natural gas.”

“At the same time, renewable power sources like wind and solar are increasing their share of the nation’s energy mix, aided by federal tax credits and Energy Department project financing.”

“Coal is feeling the markets’ squeeze.”

“But this winter has been anything but average. Weather is by far the largest factor driving electricity demand, and the cold spells are putting the changing grid to the test.”

Obama Stresses Climate Agenda With New $1 Billion Fund Proposal

Politico: “President Barack Obama will ask Congress to set up a $1 billion “Climate Resilience Fund” in his proposed budget next month.”

“The fund would go to research on the projected impacts of climate change, help communities prepare for climate change’s effects and fund ‘breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure.’”

“The administration’s new push to address the drought comes a week after the Agriculture Department announced it would set up a series of ‘climate hubs’ across the U.S. to study climate change’s impacts on agriculture and rural activities and develop mitigation and adaptation measures.”

‘Clean’ Natural Gas Needs to Fix Pollution-Causing Leaks in System

A new study released Thursday shows significant leakage of the greenhouse gas, methane, in the nation’s natural gas system, far more than previous government estimates.

Washington Post: “But even with the current leaks, burning natural gas instead of coal is producing less heat-trapping gas and will slow the rate of climate change over 100 years , the researchers said in their study, published in the current issue of the journal Science.”

The team wrote: “If natural gas is to be a ‘bridge’ to a more sustainable energy future, it is a bridge that must be traversed carefully.”

“Fortunately, they added, that task is achievable, because a large share of the leaked gas comes from a tiny number of “super-emitters,” devices or other parts of the gas and oil system that are allowing disproportionate emissions.”

“The switch from diesel to natural gas in heavy vehicles, they said, probably has not been worthwhile so far in slowing climate change, even if it has helped with air quality.”

Conflicts of Interest in Keystone XL Approval Process?

EcoWatch: On Wednesday, “Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth submitted evidence to the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General to support the ongoing inquiry into conflicts of interest and mismanagement in the environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.”

Environmental groups contend that the review is flawed because it was completed by an oil industry consultant, Environmental Resources Management, “which was recommended to the agency by TransCanada, [and] performed services on the Alaska Pipeline Project, a joint project between Exxon and TransCanada. ERM also failed to disclose that at least 11 of its oil industry clients … stand to profit” from the project’s approval.

“Rather than conduct any independent conflict screening, the State Department simply accepted ERM’s disclosure at face value. The groups contend that this a violation of the State Department’s own protocol and the OIG’s recommendations from a similar 2012 investigation into the contractor in the first Keystone XL review.”

Bloomberg: “ERM wrote in the July 17 letter to the department that said media reports ‘grossly misinterpreted’ its relationship with TransCanada.”

Will Cleaner Coal Lead to Higher Prices?

Bloomberg: “Requiring the use of carbon capture and sequestration technologies at coal-fired power plants could increase the wholesale price of electricity between 70 percent and 80 percent, an Energy Department official said.”

Although the price of CCS technologies could eventually drop, the first generation could have a captured cost of carbon dioxide as high as $70-90 per ton for wholesale electricity production.

“Between fiscal years 2005 and 2014, the Energy Department has received around $7.6 billion in funding for development of CCS technologies in hopes of commercialization. Eight major demonstration projects are under Energy Department programs, most of which use the captured carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery.”

Julio Friedmann, deputy assistant secretary for clean coal at the Energy Department said “it would be difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change without the use of CCS technologies.”

Friedman: “It’s a technology that we simply need to have.”

More Bad News For West Virgina

The Hill: “On Tuesday, coal slurry from a line in the Patriot Coal facilities spilled into Fields Creek — a tributary of the Kanawha River near Charleston.”

“The slurry blackened six miles of the creek and inspectors are testing water to determine how much leaked … They believe roughly 100,000 gallons spilled.”

“Lawmakers are pushing stricter legislation on Capitol Hill that would grant states more oversight power for chemical facilities.”

Daily Kos: “In 2009, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement told the DEP in an official report that the state agency was failing to take effective enforcement action to reduce so-called  ‘blackwater spills’ in West Virginia’s mining operations. DEP’s response? It rejected the OSM’s recommendations that it re-examine its rules and policies on such spills, claiming such events were dwindling.”

The Biggest Changes in U.S. Energy

Amy Harder shows how the nation’s energy needs have transformed since 2008.

America’s oil and natural-gas boom.  The boom has enabled Obama to enact tougher environmental rules … and tout progress on combating climate change, even if in the long run it’s not a clear success.

The rise of EPA and the fall of climate-friendly Republicans. The last six years have also seen the near extinction of Republicans who openly acknowledge global warming is real and advocate for action … The threat of EPA played a role by galvanizing Republicans and coal-state Democrats around a common enemy, instead of a common goal.

Environmental movement flipping from top down to bottom up. Comprehensive climate change is dead …  Environmentalists support EPA’s plans to regulate carbon emissions, but this effort doesn’t have the rallying appeal individual projects do.

Imports and exports of fossil fuels. Because the government bans most exports of crude oil, exports of products refined from oil … have increased more than 60% since 2008. Meanwhile, EIA predicts the U.S. will import just 28% (vs 60% in 2008).

Renewable-energy growth, which is objectively significant but still relatively small.


Is the State Department’s Keystone XL Report Biased?

InsideClimateNews reports that much of the analysis by the State Department in its Keystone XL Pipeline review relied on material from “Jacobs Consultancy, a group that is owned by a big tar sands developer and that was hired by the Alberta government—which strongly favors the project.”

“The Jacobs Consultancy is a subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering, a giant natural resources development company with extensive operations in Alberta’s tar sands fields.”

“Jacobs Consultancy has carried out influential studies assessing the oil sands’ carbon footprint—research that has played a role in in the Obama administration’s review of the Keystone XL.”

“As a rule, the Jacobs carbon footprint estimates of the tar sands oil that would move through the Keystone XL were considerably lower than alternative estimates produced by the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory, or NETL, which is part of the Energy Department and is independent of tar sands commercial interests.”

First West Coast Offshore Wind Turbine Wins Approval

EcoBusiness: “The approval of a five-turbine, 30-megawatt (MW) pilot project off Coos Bay in Oregon was announced Wednesday by Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy Beaudreau. The farm would be about 15 miles from shore in about 1,400 feet of water.”

“Seattle-based Principle Power will use a floating wind turbine technology that has not been deployed in U.S. waters.”

“Using statistics from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Interior estimates that the West Coast is capable of producing more than 800 gigawatts (GW) of wind energy—which equals more than three-quarters of the nation’s entire power generation capacity.”

Why the AFL-CIO Will Support the Keystone XL Pipeline

Although it is unlikely that the Keystone Pipeline project will create many permanent jobs, the AFL-CIO is poised to support construction of the pipeline.

Matthew Yglesias: “The issue here, however, is all about the building trades unions. The building trades have been backing Keystone for a long time because from the viewpoint of a construction worker all jobs are temporary jobs. Actually building the pipeline will involve thousands of construction workers.”

“If the State Department is giving it a thumbs up, then for all the unions that don’t care it’s not clear what’s gained by neutrality. And for the building trades the upside of building the pipeline remains what it ever was—construction jobs.”

Profiting From Global Warming

Time Ideas provides a fascinating overview of how numerous corporations are taking advantage of global warming to boost profits.

Using Bayer as one example, Time Ideas reports that the company has introduced a number of products —  allergy medicine, mosquito nets, insecticides, storm-proof building spray — all designed to address a hotter, more volatile climate.

Corporations see new markets and profits: “In the Netherlands, the stock of the seawall-building company Arcadis jumped by 6% the moment New York City — a potential client — was struck by Hurricane Sandy.”

But this opportunity for profit may mask the overarching crisis:

“Americans often frame climate change as a tragedy of the commons: we all pursue our selfish lives, we all emit, and together we all will someday pay. But this is a dangerous way to understand the future and our responsibilities to it. That some are planning to get rich from the warming world only underscores the reality of climate change: its impacts, though mostly bad for most people in most places, are deeply uneven.”

“This unevenness suggests that self-interest, however rational, may never be enough to jump-start real climate action in the wealthy countries where it’s most needed.”