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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 31, 2014


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White House Announces New Methane Emissions Standards

On March 28, the White House released its most recent component of the Administration’s Climate Action Plan, its Strategy to Cut Methane Emissions. The new strategy will take steps to reduce methane emissions from four sources of methane emissions: landfills, coal mines, agriculture, and oil and gas operations. The strategy directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose updated standards for methane emissions from landfills and assess emissions from the oil and gas sector, in order to determine whether further regulations are needed. EPA would also work with the Department of Energy to identify opportunities for industry to voluntarily reduce methane emissions, through the Natural Gas STAR program. The strategy also directs the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to gather input on the potential use of captured methane from coal mines, as well as propose updated standards to reduce flaring and venting from oil and gas production on public lands. “Methane pollution is an intense contributor to global climate change, and the White House methane strategy is a smart roadmap for taking on the biggest sources of emissions, including natural gas leaks from the oil and gas sector,” commented Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, over 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in a 20-year period. Currently, methane accounts for almost 9 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

For additional information see: USA Today, The Guardian, White House Fact Sheet

Senator Unveils New Carbon Capture and Sequestration Legislation

On March 24, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced the Advanced Clean Coal Technology Investment in Our Nation Act (ACCTION), which would support the expansion of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, in order to reduce the carbon footprint of coal. The bill would redirect 25 percent ($2 billion) of existing Department of Energy loan guarantees for advanced fossil fuels projects towards CCS, increase tax credits for CCS, and increase support for research and development of CCS. CCS involves the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main driver of climate change, and subsequent injection into deep rock formations. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) New Source Performance Standards, introduced September 2013, mandate that coal-fired power plant’s CO2 emissions be limited to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. Existing source performance standards are expected to be released by June 2014. Opponents of the regulation say CCS technology is currently unable to meet these standards, making new coal plants unviable. According to Senator Heitkamp’s office, the bill would provide a “viable path forward for the source of energy that provides the United States with almost 40 percent of its electricity.” In February, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited North Dakota to hear about the role of coal in the state economy. Eighty percent of the electricity generated in North Dakota comes from coal power generation, and the industry is a major employer of state residents.

For additional information see: Senator Heitkamp

Representatives Plan Tour to Get African-Americans Involved in Fighting Climate Change

On a press call on March 21, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) said that many African-Americans are disproportionately affected by climate change, as they live in urban sites with exposure to water and air pollution, and which are more vulnerable to natural disasters. The Hip-Hop Caucus, along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are working to get young African-Americans on board in the fight against climate change, and expand the idea of what makes someone an environmentalist beyond “some white person, probably wearing Birkenstocks,” to encompass broader communities. Both Rep. Ellison and Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) are touring colleges with the Hip-Hop Caucus in an “Act on Climate” Campus Tour, with this goal in mind. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will also make an appearance at the tour. “If you've ever wondered about test scores between black students and white students, if you've ever wondered about health disparities, if you've ever wondered about who gets to make it through the flood and the big bad storm and who doesn't, you really don't have to look any further than this issue of climate change,” Rep. Ellison said. The tour will make stops at Hampton University, Howard University, Wayne State University, Central State University, North Carolina A&T, and Clark Atlanta University.

For additional information see: The Hill, Hip-Hop Caucus

President Obama and European Union Continue Climate Diplomacy, Including HFC Phasedown

On March 26, leaders of the European Union and the United States issued a Joint Statement, noting the economic and security risk of climate change, and reaffirming the “strong determination to work towards the adoption in Paris in 2015 of a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties, to strengthen the multilateral, rules-based regime . . . with the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees C.” The EU and US governments further noted that the 2015 agreement should “include ambitious mitigation contributions, notably from the world’s major economies and other significant emitters.” The state leaders also affirmed their cooperation on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies; decreasing the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol; promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency; slowing deforestation; and mobilizing both private and public finance for these efforts. Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, commented, “Amid an agenda crowded with other global and regional crisis, it’s heartening to see President Obama continuing his high-level climate diplomacy, including promoting the use of the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs—the single biggest, fastest, and cheapest near-term mitigation, capable of avoiding up to 0.5C of warming by the end of the century.”

For additional information see: Council of the European Union, White House, Responding to Climate Change

Netherlands Joins US and UK in Ending Public Finance for Coal Plants

On March 24, the Netherlands Prime Minister Rutte announced his intent to bring the Netherlands into an initiative with the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland to stop public funding for new coal-fired power plants. Prime Minister Rutte, speaking on the occasion of President Obama’s visit to the Netherlands, stated, “We want to achieve an international level playing field to ensure that private and public parties invest in green growth wherever possible.” In a joint statement between the United States and the Netherlands, both countries reaffirmed their commitment to take on climate change, saying sea level rise is a particular concern. “We’re pleased that the Netherlands has joined our initiative that will virtually end all public financing for coal-fired plants abroad,” commented President Obama. “It’s concrete action like this that can keep making progress on reducing emissions while we develop new global agreements on climate change.”

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Eco Watch, White House

New Jersey Court Rules that Christie Administration Illegally Pulled State Out of RGGI

On March 25, a New Jersey court ruled that the Christie Administration broke the law when it withdrew from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). “Neither Governor Christie nor the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection can simply repeal state laws by fiat,” explained Doug O’Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey. The court told the administration it has 60 days to formally amend or repeal the climate change regulations; the court decision does not reinstate New Jersey’s RGGI membership. The court’s decision is considered to be a win for environmental groups that support RGGI, including Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), both of whom sued New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection when it withdrew from the program. While Governor Christie has said he believes in climate change, he has expressed disagreement with RGGI’s method of addressing the problem. In 2011, Christie removed the state of New Jersey from RGGI because he felt the carbon credit pricing was too low to motivate companies to reduce emissions. Environment America and other groups said “Governor Christie’s fears can be put to rest,” as RGGI has reduced regional climate pollution by more than 30 percent, created more than 23,00 job-years in all nine RGGI states, and added $2.4 billion in economic activity in the RGGI region.

For additional information see:Environment New Jersey, Business Week, Huffington Post

Murray Energy Suing EPA Over Clean Air Act Coal Regulations

On March 24, Murray Energy, a St. Clairsville, Ohio-based company, filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. Murray Energy and its subsidiaries say the EPA failed to consider the potential impact of Clean Air Act regulations on jobs, adding that the EPA is conducting a “war on coal.” The suit says new EPA regulations will lead to the closure of 392 coal power plants in the United States, and that already the electric power sector consumed 21 percent less coal in 2012 than in 2008. Murray Energy says EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is enforcing “the Clean Air Act in a manner that is causing coal mines to close, cost hard-working Americans their jobs, and shifting employment away from areas rich in coal resources to areas with energy resources preferred by the agency.” The suit requests that Administrator McCarthy evaluate whether EPA actions have caused job losses, as well as seeking to prevent further regulations on the coal industry. Murray produces 30 million tons of coal annually, employs 7,200 people, and recently purchased five coal mines for $3.5 billion. The EPA has said it will review the complaint when it receives it.

For additional information see: Associated Press/Huffington Post, BizJournal, Wheeling News-Register

World Health Organization Report Links 7 Million Annual Preventable Deaths to Climate Pollutants

On March 25, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that one in eight deaths in 2012 was caused by exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Exposure to particulate matter air pollution, which includes major climate forcers such as black carbon soot, is linked to such diseases as ischaemic heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory infections, and lung cancer. The report states that globally in 2012, 4.3 million deaths were linked to indoor particulate matter air pollution and 3.7 deaths to outdoor particulate matter air pollution, with low- and middle-income countries in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific the hardest hit by air pollutants. Black carbon soot, one of four climate pollutants known collectively as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) due to their relatively short atmospheric lifetimes, is the second leading cause of global warming behind carbon dioxide (CO2). “The big news is that we have a better understanding of how large a role air pollution plays in strokes and coronary heart attacks. Given the astronomical costs, countries need to find a way to prevent these non-communicable diseases,” commented Dr. Carlos Dora, public health and environment coordinator at the WHO.

For additional information see: The New York Times, The Guardian

Exxon Mobil to Produce Carbon Risk Report

On March 20, Exxon Mobil announced that it would begin to prepare a report addressing how climate change could affect Exxon’s business model, including the potential for climate regulations to require the oil giant to leave some of its oil and gas holdings in the ground.  The British group Carbon Tracker started the campaign to get oil companies to investigate their carbon risks, but Exxon is its first major victory. According to Natasha Lamb of Arjuna Capital, the firm investigating Exxon’s climate risks, “deep-water and tar sands . . . are not only the most carbon intensive, risky, and expensive [reserves] to extract, but the most vulnerable to devaluation.” This report is especially necessary as the United Nations reported in September that much of the remaining fossil fuel would need to remain in the ground in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

For additional information see: The Guardian

Report Shows Progress in Oregon Policies to Reduce Carbon Emissions

On March 19, Environment Oregon released a report examining the impact state and federal renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean fuel policies have on U.S. carbon emissions. According to the report, Moving America Forward, a patchwork of state and federal clean energy policies were responsible for reductions of 162 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2012, the equivalent of removing 34 million vehicles off the road. However, the report also found that in order for America to meet its goal of reducing climate change-causing pollution 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, much more will need to be done at all levels of government. Oregon ranked 14th out of 50 states in terms of carbon emissions, with more than half of the state’s carbon reductions coming from its renewable energy policies and another 34 percent from energy efficiency policies.

For additional information see: Oregon Live, Study

Natural Resources Defense Council Suggests State-oriented Plan for Carbon Pollution

On March 20, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a proposal for state-specific standards and flexible compliance options to cut carbon emissions under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), using the authority of the Clean Air Act. States and plant owners would meet emissions standards through a mix of technologies and measures, such as running coal plants less often and increasing the amount of electricity produced from renewable sources. The NRDC plan would lead to cuts of 470 to 700 million tons of carbon pollution per year by 2020, relative to 2012 levels. “There are no national limits on the vast amounts of carbon pollution these plants emit. That’s driving destructive climate change and putting future generations at grave risk,” Peter Lehner, NRDC’s executive director, commented. “NRDC’s new analysis demonstrates that there are cheaper, cleaner and more routes to substantially reduce this dangerous pollution.” President Obama has directed the EPA to produce carbon pollution standards for existing power plants by June 1, 2014.

For additional information see:New York Times, Press Release, NRDC Report

Study Indicates Further Global Warming May Trigger Freshwater Methane Emissions

On March 27, the journal Nature published findings that rising global temperatures could activate the release of freshwater sources of methane, further exacerbating global warming. Scientists from the University of Exeter examined data from hundreds of field survey and laboratory experiments to determine that temperature rise increases the flow of methane from freshwater bodies such as bogs, rivers, lakes, deltas, swamps, marshlands and rice paddies. Most of the freshwater methane is produced by a group of microbes called Archaea that live in oxygen-free sediment and help with decay processes. When researchers compared Archaea methane release to natural processes that produce and consume carbon dioxide (CO2), they found that methane is more sensitive to increased temperatures than CO2, indicating that further warming will increase the ratio of methane released relative to CO2. “The discovery that methane fluxes are much more responsive to temperature than the processes that produce and consume carbon dioxide highlights another mechanism by which the global carbon cycle may serve to accelerate rather than mitigate future climate change,” said Dr. Gabriel Yvon-Durocher at the University of Exeter, lead author of the study.

For additional information see: Climate News Network, AZO Clean Tech, Study