Energy & Environment

U.S. Energy Production Will Outpace Consumption by 2035

Fuel Fix reports on a new BP study forecasting that  “U.S. energy production will far outpace its consumption by 2035 as growth in demand for natural gas and renewable sources eclipse the use of oil and coal.”

“Natural gas would overtake oil as the country’s most used fuel by 2027 and would account for 35 percent of the country’s consumption in 2035.”

“Meanwhile, oil is expected to drop from 36 percent to 29 percent of U.S. energy consumption and renewable power sources will grow from 2 percent of energy demand in 2012 to 8 percent in 2035.”

“Dwindling oil and coal consumption also will curb the nation’s carbon emissions to a point the U.S. has not seen in three decades, and the use of renewable power sources will triple over that time, BP said Wednesday.”

EPA Bristol Bay Report: A Test of Obama’s Environmental Commitment

The EPA released its report Wednesday on the environmental impact of a massive mining project planned in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, concluding that the proposed Pebble Mine – the largest open pit mine in North America – could destroy up to 94 miles of streams where salmon spawn and migrate and up to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes.

The EPA has yet to make a decision on whether to green-light the project.

Greg Sargent argues that Pebble Mine is a big test for President Obama on the environment despite any economic benefits.

Although the Obama administration needs to weigh the project’s economic benefits against  potential environmental costs, “it’s not clear how big an economic boon this project would be to people in the surrounding communities … The Bristol Bay area already has a thriving economy centered around the sockeye salmon run.”

“Of course, President Obama has no direct control over the EPA. But he has many indirect methods at his disposal.”

“EPA employees shouldn’t fear to defend the collective commons aggressively, confident that President Obama has their backs. The fate of this project will tell us how confident the EPA feels.”

U.S. Trade Talks: Environment Takes a Hit

The New York Times reveals that “the Obama administration is retreating from previous demands of strong international environmental protections in order to reach agreement on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] trade deal that is a pillar of President Obama’s strategic shift to Asia, according to documents obtained by WikiLeaks, environmentalists and people close to the contentious trade talks.”

“As it stands now, the documents … show that the disputes could undo key global environmental protections  — including legally binding pollution control requirements and logging regulations and a ban on harvesting sharks’ fins — to advance a trade deal that is a top priority for Mr. Obama.”

“Since the trade talks began, lawmakers and advocacy groups have assailed the negotiators for keeping the process secret, and WikiLeaks has been among the most critical voices.”

5 Reasons Why Keystone XL Would Damage Obama’s Climate Record

Summarizing the findings from a recent panel of environmental experts, EcoNews lists the five reasons why Keystone XL pipeline project does not pass President Obama’s test of not “significantly” increasing carbon pollution:

More pipelines mean more tar sands development. Major investments aimed at increasing tar sands production are not compatible with preventing the planet from high-risk levels of global warming.

Without Dramatic Pollution Reductions, Climate Change’s Going to Get Ugly. There are certainly a number of ways we could look at offsetting an infrastructure project like the Keystone XL pipeline. But at the end of the day if we don’t stabilize CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, which actually requires dramatic emissions reductions, climate change is going to get ugly.

Keystone XL Means 4 Million Cars a Year on Canada’s Roads. A “no” on Keystone would tell oil sands companies, and Canada’s governments, that we have to start taking climate change more seriously to compete and prosper in a low-carbon future.

Keystone Would Need 20-35 Million Credits Each Year to Offset. The difficulty with offsetting the Keystone XL pipeline derives both from its enormous emissions profile, and from the short timeframe it would provide to identify and create new offset projects.

If We Can’t Say ‘No’ to Keystone, What Can We Say ‘No’ To?

Carbon Emissions Rise After Years of Decline

An increase in coal consumption in the power sector has reversed the downward trend in U.S. carbon emissions, according to the most recent figures released by the Department of Energy.

According to The Hill, the 2% increase in 2013 from 2012 levels is the “first increase in emissions in the last three years. The majority of carbon emissions come from energy-related uses like power plants and transportation.”

Inside Climate News: “In a brief analysis, the DOE’s statistical arm said it expected emissions from coal to continue rising from 2013 to 2014, and emissions from gas to fall.”

“The energy forecasts don’t factor in changes in policy that might help get emissions back on a downward track, such as tighter rules on smokestack emissions at power plants or the extension of tax breaks for renewables, including a subsidy for wind that expired at the end of 2013.”

Why We Should Care About West Virgina

The catastrophic chemical spill last week in West Virgina’s Elk River is not just an environmental disaster confined to small sub-set of the American population. It is a microcosm of the nation’s fractured environmental regulatory framework and exposes a number of broader issues.

One is the dilemma faced by state governments to boost their economies by accommodating corporate agendas at the expense of public safety.

The New York Times reports West Virgina is a state “with a long and troubled history of regulating the coal and chemical companies that form the heart of its economy.”

“Critics say the problems are widespread in a state where the coal and chemical industries, which drive much of West Virginia’s economy and are powerful forces in the state’s politics, have long pushed back against tight federal health, safety and environmental controls.”

Another issue is strong resistance by states to accept federal oversight: “West Virginia has a pattern of resisting federal oversight and what they consider EPA interference, and that really puts workers and the population at risk.”

There is also a “questionable enforcement ethic” to adhere to federal laws, coupled with a powerful coal lobby that has “wielded great influence in crafting state environmental regulations.”

Obama Announces Extensive Energy Review

“President Obama on Thursday ordered a sweeping review of energy strategy that will involve departments and agencies across the federal government,” reports The Hill.

A part of Obama’s climate agenda, the review will address the nation’s aging infrastructure, which, according to a White House statement, “must keep pace both with the transformations in energy supply, climate change and security.”

“The formal announcement comes at a time when tensions have flared up over whether the U.S. should transport crude oil via railcar or pipeline, and whether the nation’s electric grid is ready for the onslaught from renewable energy sources.”

Debate Begins Over U.S. Oil Export Ban

As the debate over the ban on U.S. crude-oil exports heats up, Brad Plumer provides an overview.

The ban, which was intended to mitigate against volatility and price spikes by limiting U.S. reliance on imports, is argued by some to be obsolete.

“The energy landscape today is very different from the 1970s. Domestic production of crude oil is now on the upswing, thanks to shale fracking and other improved drilling techniques.” And currently, “the export ban is actually hurting these upstart producers.”

The three main objections to lifting the ban include:

  1. A concern that U.S. gasoline prices could rise.
  2. An increase in oil drilling could increase overall greenhouse-gas emissions.
  3. Many U.S. refineries like the existing state of affairs just fine — since they can buy oil at artificially low prices and then export the gasoline and diesel abroad at a markup.

“Perhaps most interestingly, Obama’s Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, said he’d at least be open to revisiting the ban: ‘There are lots of issues in the energy space that deserve some new analysis and examination in the context of what is now an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s.'”

“Still, there’s likely to be a fair amount of opposition—some individual refineries dislike the idea, [as do] some Democrats.”

Proposed Power Plant Emissions Rule Fuels Debate

The Environmental Protection Agency published on Wednesday its new performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from new electric generating plants using coal, petroleum coke or natural gas.

As a touchstone of the Obama administration’s mandate to reduce emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2019, the proposed rule has already received strong opposition from the energy industry and Republicans.

The Washington Examiner: “Carbon capture and sequestration is a process that traps carbon emissions and stores them underground. The proposed EPA rule would effectively block building new coal-fired power plants without it, though few utilities have plans to build such plants as they have increasingly switched to cheap natural gas.”

“In typical EPA fashion, they’re putting the cart before the horse to advance their environmental policy agenda. They’re moving forward with a controversial rule to regulate carbon based on technology that isn’t commercially available. Not only is this wrongheaded, it’s beyond the scope of their legal authority,” commented Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Could Kerry Kill the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Secretary of State John Kerry’s push for a new global climate agreement has fueled speculation about the fate of the contentious Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project.

According to EcoWatch, “as a fossil fuel export-enabling project, Keystone XL is a big, fat, square peg aimed at the round holes of Secretary Kerry’s global climate policymaking efforts.”

Kerry’s success with brokering an effective climate agreement depends on establishing “U.S. credibility on the subject of greenhouse gas management.”

“Now take a look at that Keystone XL pipeline, and you can see how approval of the project would pull the rug out from under everything that Secretary Kerry has been working for. It puts the U.S. in the position of aiding and abetting the introduction of more fossil fuel into the global market, while putting domestic safety and security at risk.”

“Kerry has stated that he will not involve himself directly in the Keystone review process, which was well under way when he became Secretary of State. However, Keystone XL raises the kind of red flags that he has been pursuing over a decades-long record of climate action.”

Polar Vortex Does Not Negate Global Warming

Climate change doubters are using the extreme cold hitting most of the nation as evidence to support their cause. Do they have a case?

Climate experts say, no. The cold snap is merely a blip in long-term planetary climate trends.

Politico: “Most climate researchers say the great weight of the long-term trends points to the reality that big changes are afoot: For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that according to global temperature data going back to 1880, all 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.”

“Michael Mann, the Penn State climatologist who has often been at the center of the fights over global warming, accused climate skeptics of using ‘discredited talking points’ in hopes of ‘hijacking the serious conversation we need to have about how we are going to deal with the very real risks of climate change.'”

“Two-thirds of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, according to recent surveys. But less than half believe the evidence definitively shows humans are responsible.”

Could Fracking Reduce the Trade Deficit?

Neil Irwin digs into the reasons for the recent decrease in America’s trade deficit – down 13% from October and the lowest monthly trade deficit in four years:

“Most of the decline in imports came about because of a $2.5 billion drop in the value of imported crude oil. That’s not just a one-month trend. Through the first 11 months of 2013, crude oil imports were down almost $40 billion, a 13.7 percent drop. There were also large drops in other petroleum products (liquified petroleum gas imports, down $2.2 billion, other petroleum products down $1.6 billion).”

“So, the domestic energy boom is translating pretty clearly into a more favorable trade balance for the United States, which in turn means stronger overall growth.”

Fracking Oversight a Potential Problem

A new AP report reveals hundreds of cases of well-water contamination from fracking “that casts doubt on industry suggestions that such problems rarely happen.”

The National Journal: “Though the AP is quick to note that the number of complaints registered in each state comprise only a small fraction of the total wells fracked in each state, the report nevertheless suggests that state regulators, overall, appear wary of releasing data related to fracking, a stance that environmental advocates in particular have found troubling.”

“The news comes at the same time that energy analysts say the federal government is unlikely to step up its oversight of fracking ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.”

“The EPA, meanwhile, has tended to defer to state regulators in issues involving allegations of groundwater contamination, likely because the agency is unwilling to ruffle feathers when fracking is seen by many as one of the few bright spots in the U.S. economy.”

Government Green-Tech Initiatives: ‘Expensive Tax-Funded Flops’?

The National Journal reports that “a new 60 Minutes story concludes there’s little to show for tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer support for green-technology companies.”

“Reporter Lesley Stahl’s piece [Cleantech Crash,] cites a ‘string of expensive tax-funded flops’ such as the failure of Energy Department-backed companies Solyndra and Fisker Automotive, as well as the struggles of venture capitalists.”

Critics of the story fought back: “Center for American Progress climate blogger Joe Romm responded with a chart-heavy post Sunday night that notes the growing deployment and falling costs of solar and wind energy.”