Archive for the ‘Clean Air’ Category

Obama’s State of Union will likely hit on a number of energy policy themes: climate change, promotion of offshore drilling, clean energy. The President’s statements on climate change were previewed in his January 21 inaugural address, when he declared “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”

The 2007 Supreme Court ruled the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses under its existing Clean Air Act authority if it finds a scientific basis that such emissions pose a danger to public health. This summer, a Republican-led federal appeals court ruled that the EPAs compilation of the science of climate change was overwhelming and compelling, thereby requiring the Agency to act.

Obama has already used this authority to implement ground-breaking greenhouse gas emission rules for cars and trucks, and has proposed rules for new power plants that rule out the construction of conventional coal power plants. Tonight’s State of the Union will likely propose new rules over existing power plants.

And this is where Southern’s $100,000 contribution to Obama’s 2013 Inaguaration may become a factor. Southern Co was the only utility to make a contribution.  Obama’s climate change rules for cars were developed with auto industry support – previewing a framework for how rules over existing power plants may play out. In 2009 Obama was content to let the House take the lead in putting together climate rules to ensure there’d be shared responsibility among the legislative & executive branches on economy-wide legislation that was sure to be controversial in some circles. While Obama quickly abandoned succeeding Senate efforts to draft a companion bill after concluding that the cap ‘n trade approach was too politically risky, Obama pivoted in his 2011 SOTU around a clean energy standard that promoted nuclear and natural gas that had very similar emissions reduction targets as the Waxman Markey bill.

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The following is a repost of my National Journal Energy Experts blog

Electricity policy faces enormous challenges—three different federal agencies (EPA, DOE, FERC) and 10 Congressional committees wrestle with oversight over electricity markets, new generation sources, air and water emissions issues, and energy efficiency initiatives. Resolving the current political stalemate requires an acknowledgement that maximizing investment in a decentralized electricity structure has to be a significant part of policy going forward. And we must recognize that while constitutional rights within our Democratic Republic often clash with companies’ need for efficiency, preserving those rights must be our priority.

Not only are capital cost barriers of proposed new nuclear and coal-fired units significant, but so are the associated transmission infrastructure upgrades needed to move the power from new sources to population centers. Trying to build any new type of large infrastructure system designed to accommodate our centralized power system has traditionally run into NIMBY opposition, which lately has been characterized as Not on Planet Earth (NOPE). Population density in the US has increased 105% from 1950 to 2010—from 42.6 people per square mile in 1950 to 87.4 people per square mile in 2010. With more people living per square mile than ever before, Americans’ Fifth Amendment Constitutional right to due process guarantees that large projects will continue to be delayed. Congress’ unwillingness to grant the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ultimate authority over transmission siting leaves permitting at the state level, where property owners will continue to hold sway over project developers. Meanwhile, the plummeting cost of solar photovoltaics, advances in micro-wind turbines, and continued permitting successes of geothermal are providing more opportunities for distributed renewable energy generation. It’s more efficient to site millions of rooftop solar systems than permit just a handful of new coal/nuclear stations with hundreds of miles of needed transmission.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced new proposed greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks that will extend through the 2025 model year last fall.  At the same time, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) announced its new clean cars policy.  CARB’s clean cars policy included harmonized greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light duty trucks, issued as part of the negotiated “National Program” for fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.  But in addition to these standards, California will also continue two programs to encourage automakers to deploy advanced technology (battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell) vehicles.

The federal agencies will be accepting public comments on the proposed rules until Feb. 13, 2012.  Public Citizen supports the federal efforts to promote new clean vehicles, but we are concerned that the proposed rules include too many loopholes for automakers to reduce the amount of efficiency improvement required by the standards.

Another important part of clean cars policy is the interaction between federal and state standards.  A new report by Public Citizen, Driving on California’s Hydrogen Highway:  Innovative Clean Cars Policy Remains Relevant to Federal Transportation Regulation, explains that California’s advanced technology vehicles programs are an important extension of California’s long history of driving clean cars policy.

California seeks to develop a policy to address the historical problem with shifting to advanced technology vehicles.  For decades, policy makers, environmentalists, and the auto industry have tried to find ways to encourage deployment of alternatives to gasoline vehicles.  But automakers hesitate to invest in building vehicles they might not be able to sell, and car buyers are wary of buying vehicles they cannot easily refuel.  This problem has been well illustrated by the decades of failed policies to support ethanol-fueled vehicles.  Starting in the 1970s, the federal government has offered a subsidy for ethanol producers to make ethanol as a vehicle fuel.  Then in 1988, Congress authorized a credit toward fuel economy compliance for manufacturers that built cars that could run on a blend of 85 percent ethanol (E85).  But despite these incentives, E85 is only available at less than 2 percent of gas stations nationwide.

California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program and Hydrogen Highway initiative seek to correct for this problem by simultaneously stimulating a vehicle market, while producing a refueling infrastructure to support it.  The ZEV program would mandate that a certain percentage of the cars sold in California be certified zero emission vehicles.  For now, the only vehicles that would qualify are battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  The Hydrogen Highway initiative would finance building nine hydrogen refueling stations, with plans to expand this number over the next decade.

These programs affirm California’s role as a leader in clean vehicle policy.  Although the negotiated federal greenhouse gas and fuel economy policy now has wide support, even from the automakers, California played an important role in pushing the federal standards forward.  Now California is participating in an important policy experiment that will give the federal agencies insight into how to think about creating integrated policy around clean vehicles and clean fuels.

READ the report.

Lena Pons is an expert on vehicle efficiency regulations, and a guest blogger for Energy Vox.



Often lost in the important arguments of why to oppose the Keystone pipeline that would bring dirty tar sands oil from Canada to r"Tar Sands Action" "Keystone pipeline gas prices"efineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast is that it will raise gasoline prices. How does bringing in more oil supply result in higher gas prices, you ask? Let me walk you through the facts. A combination of record domestic oil production and anemic domestic demand has resulted in large stockpiles of crude oil in the U.S. In particular, supplies of crude in the critical area of Cushing, OK increased more than 150% from 2004 to early 2011 (compared to a 40% rise for the country as a whole). Segments of the oil industry want to import additional supplies of crude from Canada, bypass the surplus crude stockpiles in Oklahoma in an effort to refine this Canadian imported oil into gasoline in the Gulf Coast with the goal of increasing gasoline exports to Latin America and other foreign markets. As the Wall Street Journal noted yesterday (subscription required) :

“The sale of an oil pipeline running from Oklahoma to Texas upended U.S. energy markets Wednesday, sending the price of crude surging above $100 a barrel …Enbridge Inc.—which bought a 50% stake in the Seaway Pipeline—announced it would reverse the direction of the flow, allowing more crude to move south from oil storage in Cushing, Okla., into the world’s largest refinery complex along the Gulf Coast. Over the past two years, the U.S. has started producing so much oil that existing pipelines have been unable to move it to refineries. That has led to a glut of oil in the center of the country, keeping the price of American crude far below that of petroleum traded overseas…With a new supply of oil headed to Gulf Coast refineries, exports of gasoline are expected to rise…For decades, oil has been imported from overseas to the Gulf Coast, then either refined there or moved elsewhere in the U.S. for processing.

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On Friday, hundreds of activists turned out for a rally held during the final State Department public hearing on the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline project. Among these activists were folks that traveled from states that will bear the brunt of the impact from the proposed pipeline. They came to Washington D.C., on their own dime. They were joined by activists that just a month earlier were arrested as part of a two-week sustained demonstration in protest of the pipeline. Others in the crowd had spent the entire night outside of the hearing room just to ensure an early spot on the speaking list in an attempt to thwart line holders hired by industry.

I read in one account of the public hearing and the accompanying activities that supporters of the pipeline held a counterrally at the same time as the opposition rally. I didn’t witness the counterrally, but I can imagine what it looked like.

In addition to paying folks to stand in line to register pro-industry speakers, the oil industry also bused in employees and sympathetic union members. You could tell who they were because they all were sporting the same bright T-shirt. The numbers the industry turns out are impressive, but the enthusiasm for the cause usually is lacking. The directive is for them to be in the room. Often only a few provide public comments. And the message is honed: Jobs, Jobs, and Jobs.

In this case, the erroneous jobs statistic that is echoed by proponents is that 20,000 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs will be created by the Keystone XL project. But the job creation numbers were supplied by TransCanada, the corporation seeking approval to build the pipeline. In fact, the State Department’s own study suggests that far fewer jobs – no more than 6,000 direct jobs – will be created, and most of them will be non-local and temporary.

Fuzzy math, like bright T-shirts, is becoming another hallmark of the oil industry.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, for more than a year, the American Petrolem Institute (API) has been highlighting the number of jobs it says are linked to the oil and gas industry.

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