America’s wind energy industry passed a major milestone

ThinkProgress

America’s wind energy industry passed a major milestone

Economic challenges facing wind energy are nothing new, industry says.

Mark Hand         August 9, 2017

https://i0.wp.com/thinkprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/dry-lake-wind.jpg?resize=1280%2C720px&ssl=1The Dry Lake Wind Power Project in Arizona. CREDIT: Department of Energy

The wind energy industry reached an important milestone in 2016 when it passed the generating capacity of hydroelectric power for the first time to become the nation’s top renewable generating source. Wind energy’s growth — at least in the next few years — is showing few signs of slowing down, with 142,000 megawatts of new and proposed wind capacity lined up to connect to the nation’s electric power grid, according to new data released by the Department of Energy.

The total amount of wind capacity in the queue represents 34 percent of all generating capacity waiting to connect to the grid, higher than all other generating sources, DOE said. The wind energy industry added more than 8,200 megawatts of capacity in 2016, representing 27 percent of all energy capacity additions for that year.

That annual growth lifted the nation’s wind capacity to 81,312 megawatts at the end of December 2016, slightly above hydroelectric’s 79,985 megawatts of capacity, according to DOE. Wind supplied about 6 percent of U.S. electricity, and 14 states now get more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind.

DOE released three wind market reports on Tuesday, covering wind technology, offshore wind, and distributed wind. The primary authors of the wind technology report were employees at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The offshore wind report was prepared by employees at DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Employees at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory prepared the distributed wind report.

“The wind industry continues to install significant amounts of new capacity, and supplied about 6 percent of total U.S. electricity in 2016,” Daniel Simmons, DOE acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said in a statement. “As our reports explain, a combination of federal subsidies, state mandates, and technological advancements continue to help drive new wind capacity additions.”

Prior to joining DOE, Simmons worked at the Koch-funded Institute for Energy Research as vice president for policy and also held a top position at the Koch-funded American Energy Alliance, which advocated for the office he now oversees at DOE — the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — to be eliminated.

Wind turbine prices remained well below levels seen a decade ago, DOE said. After hitting a low of roughly $800 per kilowatt from 2000 to 2002, average turbine prices increased to roughly $1,600 per kilowatt by the end of 2008. Over the past decade, though, wind turbine prices have dropped substantially.

Technological innovations are helping wind turbines optimize their performance by reaching stronger, steadier winds, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the primary trade association for the wind power industry. Longer blades have helped to boost new wind turbine performance, with wind projects built in 2014 and 2015 reporting a 42.5 percent average capacity factor in 2016, compared to a 32.1 percent capacity factor for projects built between 2004 and 2011, AWEA said in press release Wednesday.

In the offshore report, DOE noted that more than 20 offshore wind projects totaling 24,135 megawatts of potential installed capacity are in the works. The report highlighted that last December, Deepwater Wind completed the commissioning of the Block Island Wind Farm, marking a milestone as the first commercial offshore wind project in the United States.

The first major offshore wind project in the U.S. is now powering an island

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Renewable energy continues its march forward. 

From 2003 through 2016, a total of 992 megawatts in capacity from more than 77,000 wind turbines was deployed in distributed applications across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam, DOE said.

DOE said its recent and projected near-term growth in wind energy is supported by the federal production tax credit and state-level policies. Wind additions have also been driven by improvements in the cost and performance of wind power technologies, producing low power prices for consumers.

The prospects for wind energy growth beyond the current PTC cycle remain uncertain, given declining federal tax support, expectations for low natural gas prices, and modest electricity demand growth, DOE said. At the end of 2015, Congress agreed to extend the production tax credit. Since then, wind developers have been building projects before the tax credit expires completely in 2020.

The DOE report lists many positive factors, including the potential for continued technological advancements and cost reductions to enhance the prospects for longer-term growth, Hannah Hunt, a research analyst at AWEA, said in a blog post on Tuesday.

“Some have focused on the report’s discussion of potential economic challenges for the industry, including competition from natural gas and solar,” Hunt wrote. “However, it should be noted that those challenges are nothing new and have in fact been listed in every version of the report this decade. Thanks to the innovation and productivity of American workers, the wind industry has been able overcome those challenges by greatly exceeding cost reduction expectations, and we expect that successful track record to continue.”

Interactive Map Shows Every Wind Farm in America

EcoWatch

Interactive Map Shows Every Wind Farm in America

By American Wind Energy Association      August 10, 2017

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Using a new map tool released Thursday, anyone can now easily view the location of every utility-scale wind project and wind-related manufacturing facility in the U.S. With the very first American Wind Week in full swing, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released the map to help people visualize the growth of America’s largest source of renewable energy capacity.

“Wind Power has become a vital part of the U.S. economy, drawing billions of dollars in capital investment to rural communities each year and supporting over 100,000 U.S. jobs across all 50 states,” said John Hensley, deputy director of industry data and analysis for AWEA. “I’m pleased this new map tool helps Americans visualize how world-class U.S. wind resources are being put to work in all parts of the county.”

A time-lapse feature built into the map shows the progress of wind power development across the country. Starting from 1981 in the passes of California where the first modern wind energy projects were completed, users can see the story of American wind power unfold across heartland states like Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas, and eventually to the first U.S. offshore wind project completed off Rhode Island in 2016.

The map also features markers for the more than 500 wind-related manufacturing facilities in the U.S. today. These factories support 25,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs across 41 states.

AWEA’s new map utilizes only a small percentage of the full wind project and manufacturing data available to AWEA members through Market Database Pro, a comprehensive, interactive database of all online, under construction and advanced development wind projects, and all active wind-related manufacturing facilities. More than 50 data points are provided at both the project and turbine level, with advanced interactive mapping services including filtered search capabilities, summary maps and political boundaries.

This week is the inaugural #AmericanWindWeek, dedicated to U.S. leadership in wind power. Wind is the largest source of American renewable energy capacity, supporting more than 100,000 U.S. jobs across all 50 states, with nearly 85,000 MW of installed capacity at the end of the second quarter of 2017.

Polluter fines drop 60 percent under Trump

Washington Post, Energy and Environment

Polluter fines drop 60 percent under Trump

By Steven Mufson        August 10, 2017

The Trump administration has so far collected $12 million in environmental-related penalties from businesses, according to a nonprofit.  Above, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview for Reuters at his office in July. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The Trump administration has collected 60 percent less from civil penalties for environmental wrongdoing than the administrations of presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did on average in their first six months in office.

That’s according to an analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group founded 15 years ago by former enforcement attorneys at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The administration has lodged 26 cases for violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws (not including Superfund sites) and it collected $12 million in penalties from companies, the group said.  Clinton, Bush and Obama respectively lodged 45, 31, and 34 cases and collected $25 million, $30 million and $36 million in penalties.

Related: White House reviewing new report that finds strong link between climate change and human activity

The Environmental Integrity Project said that the figures showed that the Trump administration is “off to a very slow start” when it comes to enforcing environmental law. It said that the cases this year “are smaller, requiring much less spending on cleanup, and resulting in fewer measurable reductions in pollutants that end up in our air or water.”

The Trump administration also lags behind the three previous presidential administrations in the amount of injunctive relief and the amount of air pollution reductions.

At the same time, the group warned that a six-month period does not provide enough data for definitive conclusions, and cases and settlements are often the result of years of efforts. For example, the largest civil penalty imposed by the Obama administration in its first six months was a $12 million fine imposed on BP, whose large Texas City refinery suffered fires and explosions that killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others in 2005.

The largest civil penalty imposed so far by the Trump administration came on May 17, when the EPA and the state of Texas imposed a $2.5 million penalty on the owner of Vopak Terminals North America Inc. for air pollution violations at its terminal along the Houston Ship Channel, the EIP said. The Dutch company’s terminal stores biofuels, chemicals, petroleum products, base oils and lubricants, consisting of 243 tanks with a collective capacity of over 7 million barrels, the EPA said on its website.

It added that Vopak’s violations were detected in 2012, 2014 and 2015 involving open tanks, leaking tanks and inefficient flares that contributed to releases of volatile organic compounds.

Related: At EPA museum, history might be in for a change

“The company’s Deer Park facility failed to comply with Clean Air Act requirements to properly manage equipment, which resulted in excess emissions of benzene (a carcinogen) and volatile organic compounds,” the EIP said. “These compounds contribute to smog and causes asthma attacks and eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as headaches, nausea and damage to liver, kidney and the central nervous system.”

The biggest penalty imposed during the first six months of George W. Bush’s administration was a $9.5 million fine on oil refiners Motiva, Equilon and Shell.  The Clinton administration imposed a $11.1 million fine on Louisiana Pacific and Kirby Forest Industries for air pollution violations at wood product plants.

The EIP relied on consent decrees, news releases by the Justice Department and the Federal Register to compile its figures.

Read more:

Will proposed cuts undermine Trump’s vision of ‘energy dominance?’

Is the most powerful lobbyist in Washington losing its grip?

Steven Mufson covers energy and other financial matters. Since joining The Post, he has covered the White House, China, economic policy and diplomacy.

Electric vehicles to eat into global oil demand by 6 million barrels

UPI     Home-Energy News

Electric vehicles to eat into global oil demand by 6 million barrels

A report from Wood Mackenzie finds the purchase price for electric vehicles is on course to reach parity with their internal-combustion counterparts.

By Daniel J. Graeber     August 10, 2017 

The pace at which electric vehicles are gaining market share is eating into the expected long-term demand for oil, a new report finds. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UP   | License Photo

Aug. 10 (UPI) — An increased consumer use of electric vehicles means global oil demand could shrink by at least 6 million barrels, a report from Wood Mackenzie found.

In what was described as a carbon-constrained scenario, the new report, prepared in coordination with GTM Research, which covers the global electricity sector, said electric vehicles could make up about 20 percent of all of the cars on the road in less than 20 years.

“The falling cost of EVs and their batteries will put EV purchase prices on par with internal combustion engine cars, boosting consumer demand,” Paul McConnell, research director of global trends for Wood Mackenzie, said in an emailed statement.

Swedish automaker Volvo said this year it was marking an end to a vehicle line powered solely by the internal combustion engine. Tesla said in its second quarter release that orders for two of its electric vehicle lines were up 15 percent in July when compared with the quarterly average.

Two million electric vehicles were on the road globally last year, with most of those in the U.S., European and Chinese markets. For Europe, the British and French governments set long-term goals to phase out new gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles. Germany, meanwhile, has worked quickly to expand its network of charging stations across its national roadway system.

Wood Mackenzie described the maturation of the electric vehicle market as “rapid,” adding it expected momentum to start eating away at the global demand for oil.

“We foresee EVs potentially displacing about 6.5 million barrels of oil demand, offsetting growth from other sectors such as petrochemicals,” McConnell said.

Economists at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries revised their forecast for global oil demand for 2018 higher by 1.28 million barrels per day to 97.7 million barrels per day. Total oil demand for 2017 is expected to be 96.49 million barrels per day. Most of the demand growth next year comes from developing countries.

Using the pace of transition from horse-drawn carriages to fuel-powered vehicles in the 20th century as a benchmark to measure growth, the International Monetary Fund said motor vehicles could vanish from markets in advanced economies within the next 20 years. For the shift in vehicles themselves, the IMF said retooling may be necessary for the industry.

“The falling cost of EVs and their batteries will put EV purchase prices on par with internal combustion engine cars, boosting consumer demand,” McConnell said. “This is going to force automakers to develop even better EVs or far more efficient internal combustion engines, as per-mile running costs become a key differentiator between the new technology and legacy engine types.”

Related UPI Stories

Britain to start taking gas, diesel vehicles off roads in 2040

Farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota are now recycling millions of pounds of plastic

Chicago Tribune

Farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota are now recycling millions of pounds of plastic

Recyling plasticWrapping hay and silage in plastic is generating millions of pounds of waste per year. (Dreamstime / TNS)

Tom Meersman, Minneapolis Star-Tribune     August 9, 2017

Minnesota and Wisconsin farms generate 60 million to 80 million pounds of plastic each year but until now had no real options to recycle it. They had to make a choice of paying for it to go to a landfill, burying it on their own land or illegally burning it — none of them, they knew, good for the environment.

An Arkansas company has come up with a solution: In the past two years, it has given more than 4,400 dumpsters to farmers in the two states and then picked up the waste to turn into trash bags that are being used in parks locally.

“Recycling Ag plastics is a problem that’s bedeviled me for 20 years,” said Anne Morse, recycling and sustainability coordinator for Winona County in southeastern Minnesota. “There wasn’t a system that I could set up that made sense and wasn’t extremely costly.”

That ended last December, when Winona became the first county in the state to welcome Revolution Plastics, the Arkansas-based company that has been in the plastics recycling business in Southern states since 1996.

Revolution, wanting to expand its reach, set up pilot programs in the Midwest in 2014 and 2015 and initiated a full launch in Minnesota and Wisconsin last year, said Price Murphy, the company’s director of operations.

Farmers who use at least 2,000 pounds of plastic a year can sign up for the program, Murphy said. More than 100 dumpsters will be distributed in Fergus Falls, Minn., and Buffalo, Minn.

Once farmers drive the dumpsters home, Revolution picks up the plastic from them on a regular schedule, determined by the size of the farms, mostly dairies, and the amount of plastic used.

“I have some farms where I collect as much as every other week, and I have some farms where it’s maybe two or three times per year,” Murphy said. “We try to help as many farmers as possible, large and small farms alike, and we just put them on different route schedules.”

Jeff Beckman, owner of Golden Meadows Dairy, about 35 miles south of Minneapolis, was one of 110 farmers to pick up a dumpster in late May in Goodhue County.

“As I’m feeding the cows each day, I cut off the plastic that I’m feeding off and I put it in the dumpster,” he said. “It’s as simple as five minutes and we’re done.”

With 100 cows, Beckman said he was spending $1,700 a year to have 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of plastic trucked to a landfill, and he now gets it picked up once every eight weeks for free.

“In farming today you have to be very cautious about what you spend, so any time you can recycle or reuse something, it’s just to our advantage,” he said. “It’s also a gain for the environment, so it’s fun when things are a double win.”

Brita Sailer, executive director of the nonprofit Recycling Association of Minnesota, said many farmers in the past 20 years have increasingly turned to plastic covers or bags to store hay and silage — chopped up cornstalks — that are fed to cows. The bags are safer and less expensive than the traditional method of storing the fodder in silos, she said, and they also keep the silage fresher and help it retain more nutrients.

But Sailer said the bags, which can range from 100 to 300 feet long and 6 to 12 feet tall, created a waste problem that the state didn’t have before and there was no way of coping with it other than landfills. For farmers who use the bags or covers, she said, the amount of plastic used per cow amounts to 15 to 20 pounds per year.

Revolution Plastics is not the first business to be interested in the waste plastic, Sailer said, but it’s the first to offer free pickup and have its own processing plants. Other firms also are working on projects to recycle plastic waste from the marina industry, she said, which uses massive amounts of blue plastic to cover boats and protect them during winter.

Charles Krause, a dairy farmer near Buffalo, west of Minneapolis, said that he uses plastic mainly to cover bunkers of silage for his 200-cow operation. Krause said he tried to obtain a dumpster twice earlier this year but was unsuccessful because they were all spoken for. Late last month he was finally able to pick up a dumpster and said it’s “awesome” that he won’t need to pay for the plastic to be picked up.

“The nice thing about Revolution is they’re not funded by a grant, because a lot of programs get started and then they’re done when the grant runs out,” Krause said. “Hopefully this will be a long-term solution.”

Achieving success in recycling programs depends both on the markets and being able to connect the dots, said Wayne Gjerde, recycling market development specialist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“It still gets back to the basics of where’s the material, do you have enough of it, are there things that you can make it into and who’s going to do that,” he said.

After on-farm pickups, Revolution bales the plastic and ships it by truck or rail to its processing plant in Arkansas. There the plastic is washed, shredded, heated and extruded into plastic resin pellets, which can be used to make other products such as bags or construction films.

The company accepts agricultural plastic bags and wraps but not other plastics or nylon such as netting used to secure bales. Its collection system does not cover the entire state but uses hubs near concentrations of dairies that are economical to service.

“We understand what we’re getting into,” said Murphy. “It’s not a huge moneymaker as much as it’s a product we can use that not only keeps it out of the landfill but uses less energy than virgin resin to produce other products.”

Morse said that 146 of the 172 dairy farms in Winona County with more than 100 cows are now participating in the program. Murphy said that 1,132 dumpsters have been distributed in Minnesota and about 3,300 in Wisconsin, with 3,000 more farmers in the two states signed up and waiting for future deliveries.

Morse said the best part of the program is that Revolution’s sister company in Arkansas uses the recycled plastic to produce plastic trash liners and other products.

Winona County spent two months testing the liners for garbage cans in its parks and public buildings, she said, and has now decided to buy them after finding that the recycled bags were just as strong and less expensive than liners the county was using previously. Three Rivers Park District is also buying the recycled bag liners, and its suburban system uses about 33,000 of them annually.

“We’ve literally closed the loop — buying back a product that was made from materials we recycled — which is pretty much the holy grail for recycling,” Morse said. “That’s a big achievement for us.”

Switching from coal to natural gas will not save our planet

The Seattle Times Opinion

Switching from coal to natural gas will not save our planet

Workers move a well casing at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa.  (Ralph Wilson / The Associated Press)Workers move a well casing at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa. (Ralph Wilson / The Associated Press)

Bill McKibben, Special to The Times          August 8, 2017

If as little as 3 percent of natural gas leaks in the course of fracking and delivering it to the power plant through a pipe, then it’s worse than coal.

MOST magic tricks and confidence games mostly work the same way — a little bit of misdirection to get the audience looking in the wrong direction. And some of the finest magicians at large in America today are its natural-gas salesmen, who have worked hard to reassure us that they’re part of the solution to the global warming crisis. To understand why that’s a ploy — to understand why they’re in fact helping drive the heating of the planet — you have to pay close attention.

The basic move is to insist that natural gas helps cut carbon emissions. Indeed, as Dan Kirschner, the head of the Northwest Gas Association, put it in his recent Op-Ed [“The power of natural gas in the war on carbon emissions,” Aug. 3, Opinion], “the U.S. leads the world in absolute reductions in carbon emissions, due in large part to the increased availability and affordability of natural gas.”

This is true on the surface. As America’s power plants have replaced coal with fracked gas, carbon emissions have fallen because natural gas produces half as much CO2 as coal when you burn it. The problem is, carbon emissions are not the only thing that drive global warming. There’s another gas that does the job even more powerfully: CH4, or methane, which is the scientific name for natural gas. If it leaks unburned into the atmosphere, then methane traps heat about 80 times more effectively, molecule for molecule, than CO2. The point of this chemistry lesson is: If as little as 3 percent of natural gas leaks in the course of fracking and delivering it to the power plant through a pipe, then it’s worse than coal.

And, sadly, it’s now clear that leakage rates are higher than that. In January 2013, aerial surveys of a Utah fracking basin, for instance, found leak rates as high as 9 percent. Data from a Harvard satellite survey showed that between 2002 and 2014, U.S. methane emissions increased more than 30 percent.

In fact, some experts who have reviewed the data say that because of the boom in fracking and the conversion to gas, America’s total greenhouse-gas emissions may actually have gone up during the Obama years. And at least the Obama administration required drillers to keep track of how much methane they were leaking — one of the first acts of the Trump EPA was to scrap that requirement, apparently on the grounds that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.

So, to summarize, because this is a subtle point that citizens, politicians and editors need to understand, given the importance of the debate: Natural gas is not reducing the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions. It is doing nothing to slow climate change.

And worse, it’s making it much harder to take the steps that really would matter. As we get off coal because of the way it drives climate change, what we should be doing is moving to renewable energy. Solar power emits no carbon at all, which makes it the natural choice. But as long as we have cheap natural gas flooding the market, we’ll move more slowly in the direction of real renewables. Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies, explained the principal investigator of a Stanford forum that studied the explosive growth in natural gas: “If you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.”

Which is truly sad, because the solar panel is the great have-your-cake-and-eat-it technology of all time — the real deal. It takes the power the sun sends us every day and turns it into electricity. There’s no catch, no con. It’s our Houdini escape route from climate change — but only if we catch on in time to the tawdry little three-card-monte game the fossil-fuel industry is running.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann distinguished scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and founder of the global climate campaign 350.org.

Trump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on

The Hill

Trump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on

Gina McCarthy and Ken Kopocis, opinion contributors August 8, 2017

Trump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on

© Getty Images

Whether illustrated by the recent drought in California or the lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, we are reminded daily that clean water for all is essential to our existence.

Rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands supply and cleanse our drinking water, ameliorate storm surges, provide invaluable storage capacity for flood waters, and enhance our quality of life by providing essential habitat, recreational opportunities and important power generation.

Yet President Trump’s EPA is continuing its assault on our nation’s health, as well as states’ rights, through its latest effort to roll back the protections of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Under the guise of providing “certainty for regulated entities, the States, agency staff and the public,” Trump’s EPA has proposed to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which designates federal authority over bodies of water that feed into larger waterways in instances where jurisdiction was unclear under the 1972 law.

Rolling back this rule reinstates confusion and uncertainty on how to protect water quality — which harms the joint efforts at the state and federal level that have existed for nearly 45 years. This proposal to dismantle this rule would undermine the courts in an effort to avoid implementing clear, needed protections based on solid science. Scrapping the rule would also undercut the law it is meant to improve, and input gathered through a lengthy and transparent public process.

Even more egregious, EPA has not cited any specific deficiency in the Clean Water Rule it proposes to rescind and that will take away needed protections for thousands of streams and wetlands nationwide that provide drinking water to one in three Americans. Nor is it clear that this administration will ever finalize a replacement rule. But one thing is clear. Should the Trump EPA rescind the Clean Water Rule and propose a replacement rule, the agency will pursue a strategy that runs contrary to prior court decisions.

For years, stakeholders and elected officials on both sides of the aisle have requested clarity on the Clean Water Act. The agriculture, construction and energy industries along with conservation, hunting and fishing communities have demanded more transparency from the EPA on which waters would be protected by the act and — equally important — which would not.

EPA and its partner, the Army Corps of Engineers, published the Clean Water Rule in 2015 to address these demands and reduce the costly and time-consuming case-specific analysis that resulted from a confusing Supreme Court decision in 2006.

The rule followed the best available peer-reviewed science on the impacts of upstream water quality on downstream and adjacent waters. It incorporated over 1 million comments and feedback from over 400 public meetings — but the Trump EPA ignores all of that science and public input in its proposal to withdraw the Clean Water Rule.

No one asked EPA to leave the old, confusing rules in place. Yet, that is precisely what Trump’s EPA now proposes. They ignore the extensive public process used to develop the rule, they ignore the direction of the Supreme Court, (including Chief Justice John Roberts’, calling for a new rule) they ignore transparency by limiting public input to only 30 days compared to the over 200 days for the Clean Water Rule, and they offer no science or policy justification for returning to the confusing, one-off decision making that previously existed and no one supported. If there is better science that supports repeal of the Clean Water Rule, the Trump EPA has not revealed it.

The Trump EPA has put forward a false choice that providing protection against polluting and destroying bodies of water somehow is adverse to states’ interests. States decide how clean their waters will be, and 46 of the 50 States already implement many day-to-day aspects of the Clean Water Act. Plus, a significant number of states have not challenged the Clean Water Rule and their interests are undercut by the proposed rollback.

The Clean Water Act has been a hallmark of success since it was established in 1972 by a bipartisan Congress to provide protections against polluting and destroying bodies of water. But the act’s work is far from finished. State assessments show there are thousands of impaired waters in need of reduced pollution and increased protection to ensure they can provide their essential benefits.

No one ever complains that the water in our rivers, lakes, streams and ponds is too clean, that there are too many healthy fish to catch and eat. There is no outcry that our drinking water is too clean or abundant. Trump’s EPA is turning its back on protecting our nation’s waters and public health.

Gina McCarthy was the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2013 to 2017.  She served as an environmental advisor to five Massachusetts Democratic and Republican administrations and was commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

Ken Kopocis served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Previously, he held several senior positions on the staffs of the House of Representative’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Keystone XL Belongs in the ‘Trash Can of History’

EcoWatch

By Oil Change International

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Keystone XL Belongs in the ‘Trash Can of History’

By Lorne Stockman   August 8, 2017

Hearings began Monday at the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) in Lincoln for the Keystone XL pipeline. The PSC is charged with deciding whether the pipeline’s route is in the interests of the state of Nebraska. If the pipeline is judged to pose unacceptable risks to land, water, wildlife, cultural resources and property values, the PSC could deny a permit to build the 36-inch pipeline carrying toxic tar sands oil oil through the state. No doubt TransCanada will be attempting to make its case that these risks are minimal and/or mitigable, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

But key factors the PSC should be assessing—like whether market demand still exists for the project—have been disqualified from the process. As a result, the PSC is in danger of issuing a permit for a pipeline that may be underutilized and possibly not built at all. While on the surface, it may sound like an underutilized pipeline would come with fewer risks, this is far from the truth. Grave risks associated with these outcomes—like increased potential for spills and the indefinite seizure of private land—must be considered in order to protect Nebraskans.

Photo published for Critical Keystone XL Testimony Denied in Last-Minute Decision

When President Trump signed the federal permit for Keystone XL in the Oval Office in March, there were some uneasy murmurs in the room from TransCanada executives as he jovially quipped that TransCanada could now go ahead and start construction. Transcanada CEO Russ Girling knew that not only did the project still need approval in Nebraska, where it had faced the stiffest opposition in the past, but that as things stood, he did not actually have any customers for the pipeline. That situation has not changed.

A multi-billion dollar pipeline does not get built unless customers that will ship product in the pipeline contractually commit to using the pipeline. This usually takes the form of signing 20-year take-or-pay contracts for the majority of the pipeline’s capacity. So a shipper, which could for example be an oil producer, a refiner or a trader, will sign a contract committing to pay for shipping a specified amount of oil on the pipeline every day for 20 years. It is essentially a long-term reservation of space on the pipeline. TransCanada has stated that it hopes to sign up 90 percent of the project’s 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity. So it needs to sign up nearly 750,000 bpd. This is a tall order in today’s oil market and the future does not look any better.

It was primarily this issue of market need about which I submitted some 13,000 words plus 33 attachments of testimony to the Nebraska PSC back in June. I was expecting to present that testimony in person at the PSC this week. However, in a last minute decision the PSC dismissed my testimony, and that of 39 others, limiting the scope of issues it will consider and thereby ignoring some of the key risks it should be considering.

The key points that the PSC should be considering are this:

  • The future of oil demand, and consequently oil prices, is more uncertain than ever, with new technologies and environmental policies threatening to end oil’s stranglehold on transportation forever.
  • As one of the most expensive to produce sources of oil in the world, the tar sands oil that would potentially fill Keystone XL has no future in a world moving toward cleaner cities and greater climate and energy security.

That the pipeline may not attract enough customers is a major issue for TransCanada. The company has stated several times that it is struggling to sign up committed shippers and will not know if it has enough commitment until November at the earliest.

So why should the PSC consider this? If the pipeline doesn’t get built then how are Nebraskans at risk? If it does get built but then fails to meet expectations, isn’t that only of concern to the company?

Unfortunately, the vagaries of the land easements that would be enforced if the PSC issues the permit, and the greater risk of spills in an underutilized pipeline, mean that the risks of the project failing financially are potentially as bad or worse than if it is a success.

Here’s why.

The land easements that TransCanada has signed with willing landowners, as well as those it would force upon unwilling landowners through eminent domain, give the company rights to the pipeline corridor in perpetuity. This means that if the pipeline is not built TransCanada can sell the easements to the highest bidder. Therefore, landowners will have no control over what happens on their land in the future.

That unwilling landowners will be forced through eminent domain to hand over land for an unspecified use is an outrageous abuse of the principle of eminent domain. No public good has been proven for Keystone XL or any project that may end up in the corridor.

If shippers decide to take the gamble and sign up enough capacity for the project to go ahead—a gamble they may take based on overly optimistic expectations of the oil market—it is highly likely that some of the contracts may not be fulfilled and the pipeline may be underutilized.

The Natural Resources Defense Council reported Monday on the increasing evidence that underutilized pipelines are more prone to spills and those spills are much harder to detect and locate in pipelines operating under low pressure, known as “slack line” conditions.

These spill risks have not been evaluated in the environmental impact assessment of the project, which has assumed the pipeline would operate at or near full capacity.

The Keystone XL project has always been a risky and misguided venture designed to enrich corporate shareholders at the expense of the climate and landowners along the route. Since its original permit was denied, the case for building it, weak as it was, has evaporated.

What remains is a project serving only the political goals of a vain and corrupt administration bent on reversing its predecessor’s achievements no matter who bears the cost. Granting a permit in the state of Nebraska risks ceding control of Nebraskan land to a corporation that has in no way demonstrated a public interest for its project.

The permit should be denied and the Keystone XL pipeline finally confined to the trash can of history where it belongs.

Federal Scientists Leak A Startling Climate Report To Keep Trump From Burying It

Federal Scientists Leak A Startling Climate Report To Keep Trump From Burying It

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Chris D’Angelo, HuffPost      August 7, 2017

WASHINGTON — Government scientists agree that, contrary to President Donald Trump and his team’s repeated claims, climate change is already having a dramatic effect in the U.S., according to a new report.

The 543-page report, an unreleased draft published Monday by The New York Times, is written by scientists from 13 federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It concludes that temperatures in the U.S. have risen sharply, by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit, over the last 150 years and that it is “extremely likely that most of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 was caused by human influence on climate.”

Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the report states. “Thousands of studies conducted by tens of thousands of scientists around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; disappearing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea level; and an increase in atmospheric water vapor. Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate changes.”

The report, completed this year and part of the National Climate Assessment, has already been approved by the National Academy of Sciences, according to the Times. Its release hinges on the Trump administration’s approval, and one scientist who worked on the report told the Times that he and others feared the president would withhold it.

The report also finds that the average annual temperature will continue to rise throughout the century. Even if humans ceased burning fossil fuels altogether, global temperatures would climb another half a degree Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) over this century.

With “very high confidence,” the scientists concluded that “the magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the additional amount of greenhouse gases emitted globally.”

Also, the frequency of extreme weather events, including heavy rain and heat waves, have increased and are very likely to continue to do so. And since 1880, global sea levels have risen 8 to 9 inches — roughly 3 of those inches since 1990 — with human activity playing a substantial role, according to the report.

In a post to Twitter, Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that nothing in the report is surprising for people working in the field but that it may be “shocking to those that think [climate change] is just a future problem.”

The report delivers a strikingly different message than the one being pushed by Trump and his Cabinet members, who continue to downplay the urgency of the threat as they work toward “energy dominance.” Since taking office, Trump — who famously called climate change “bullshit” and a Chinese “hoax” — has moved quickly to derail America’s actions to combat climate change, including rolling back President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a policy limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump has pegged himself as a savior of America’s dying coal industry and has vowed to increase oil and gas production, opening now protected areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to drilling.

In June he announced plans to pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change ― the international accord in which nearly 200 countries committed to slashing carbon emissions in an effort to prevent global temperatures from increasing 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the line scientists say the world must stay below to stave off the very worst effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, his Cabinet members have refused to say whether Trump believes climate change is real and continue to question how much the scientific community understands about the threat and the role humans play in observed changes.

In March, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt told CNBC, “No, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” And in June, Energy Secretary Rick Perry echoed Pruitt’s comments, saying “no” when asked by CNBC whether he believes carbon dioxide “is the primary control knob for the temperature of the Earth and for climate.”

“Most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in,” Perry said. “I mean, the fact is, this shouldn’t be a debate about, ‘Is the climate changing? Is man having an effect on it?’ Yeah, we are. The question should be, you know, just how much, and what are the policy changes that we need to make to affect that?”

Perry went on to defend his and others’ climate change denial, suggesting that those who question the scientific community’s findings are more intelligent.

Also in June, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park started melting “right after the end of the Ice Age” and that it has “been a consistent melt.” He also dismissed the notion that government scientists can predict with certainty how much warming will occur by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report

New York Times

Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report

By Lisa Friedman       August 7, 2017

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The coal-burning Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga., is one of the top emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States. A draft report by government scientists concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. Credit Branden Camp/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.

“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” a draft of the report states. A copy of it was obtained by The New York Times.

The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” they wrote.

The report was completed this year and is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.

One government scientist who worked on the report, Katharine Hayhoe, a professor of political science at Texas Tech University, called the conclusions among “the most comprehensive climate science reports” to be published. Another scientist involved in the process, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others were concerned that it would be suppressed.

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Read the Draft of the Climate Change Report

A draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public but was obtained by The New York Times, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.

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The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately return calls or respond to emails requesting comment on Monday night.

The report concludes that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) of warming over this century compared with today. The projected actual rise, scientists say, will be as much as 2 degrees Celsius.

A small difference in global temperatures can make a big difference in the climate: The difference between a rise in global temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius and one of 2 degrees Celsius, for example, could mean longer heat waves, more intense rainstorms and the faster disintegration of coral reefs.

Among the more significant of the study’s findings is that it is possible to attribute some extreme weather to climate change. The field known as “attribution science” has advanced rapidly in response to increasing risks from climate change.

The E.P.A. is one of 13 agencies that must approve the report by Aug. 18. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

“It’s a fraught situation,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University who was not involved in the study. “This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration, and scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.”

Scientists say they fear that the Trump administration could change or suppress the report. But those who challenge scientific data on human-caused climate change say they are equally worried that the draft report, as well as the larger National Climate Assessment, will be publicly released.

The National Climate Assessment “seems to be on autopilot” because of a lack of political direction, said Myron Ebell, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The report says significant advances have been made linking human influence to individual extreme weather events since the last National Climate Assessment was produced in 2014. Still, it notes, crucial uncertainties remain.

It cites the European heat wave of 2003 and the record heat in Australia in 2013 as specific episodes where “relatively strong evidence” showed that a man-made factor contributed to the extreme weather.

In the United States, the authors write, the heat wave that broiled Texas in 2011 was more complicated. That year was Texas’ driest on record, and one study cited in the report said local weather variability and La Niña were the primary causes, with a “relatively small” warming contribution. Another study had concluded that climate change made extreme events 20 times more likely in Texas.

Based on those and other conflicting studies, the federal draft concludes that there was a medium likelihood that climate change played a role in the Texas heat wave. But it avoids assessing other individual weather events for their link to climate change. Generally, the report described linking recent major droughts in the United States to human activity as “complicated,” saying that while many droughts have been long and severe, they have not been unprecedented in the earth’s hydrologic natural variation.

Worldwide, the draft report finds it “extremely likely” that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 can be linked to human influence.

In the United States, the report concludes with “very high” confidence that the number and severity of cool nights have decreased since the 1960s, while the frequency and severity of warm days have increased. Extreme cold waves, it says, are less common since the 1980s, while extreme heat waves are more common.

Graphic: How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps

 

The study examines every corner of the United States and finds that all of it was touched by climate change. The average annual temperature in the United States will continue to rise, the authors write, making recent record-setting years “relatively common” in the near future. It projects increases of 5.0 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 to 4.8 degrees Celsius) by the late century, depending on the level of future emissions.

It says the average annual rainfall across the country has increased by about 4 percent since the beginning of the 20th century. Parts of the West, Southwest and Southeast are drying up, while the Southern Plains and the Midwest are getting wetter.

With a medium degree of confidence, the authors linked the contribution of human-caused warming to rising temperatures over the Western and Northern United States. It found no direct link in the Southeast.

Additionally, the government scientists wrote that surface, air and ground temperatures in Alaska and the Arctic are rising at a frighteningly fast rate — twice as fast as the global average.

“It is very likely that the accelerated rate of Arctic warming will have a significant consequence for the United States due to accelerating land and sea ice melting that is driving changes in the ocean including sea level rise threatening our coastal communities,” the report says.

Human activity, the report goes on to say, is a primary culprit.

The study does not make policy recommendations, but it notes that stabilizing the global mean temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius — what scientists have referred to as the guardrail beyond which changes become catastrophic — will require significant reductions in global levels of carbon dioxide.

Nearly 200 nations agreed as part of the Paris accords to limit or cut fossil fuel emissions. If countries make good on those promises, the federal report says, that will be a key step toward keeping global warming at manageable levels.

Mr. Trump announced this year that the United States would withdraw from the Paris agreement, saying the deal was bad for America.