Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 16, 2014

Lax EPA Regs Allow Biomass to Pollute More Than Coal

InsideClimate News: “A new study charges that government regulations for biomass plants are riddled with loopholes that allow wood-burning facilities to spew more toxic emissions in the air than coal-fired power plants.”

“The findings are refueling a controversy over whether biomass should be treated as a renewable energy fuel and able to qualify for green incentives, or as a fossil fuel like coal.”

“The study, conducted by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), found that biomass facilities release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as 100 percent more than other air pollutants.”

The loopholes include: “EPA giving biomass plants a ‘free pass’ on limiting CO2 emissions; states not requiring operators to control short-term air emissions spikes at smaller facilities; and states not mandating extra monitoring at plants that burn wood waste, which emit more toxic pollutants.”

Mary Booth, the study’s author says that “biomass should be regulated the same way as coal: ‘We’re talking about the same pollution, the same health effects, but biomass plants get to emit two and a half times as much.’”

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Role, Size of Energy Taxes Differs Across Western U.S.

The Denver Post reports that “the Colorado shale oil boom is adding billions of dollars to oil company balance sheets and millions to the coffers in counties where drilling takes place — but it hasn’t amounted to much for the rest of the state.”

“While thousands of wells are being drilled in the Niobrara shale formation — mainly in Weld County — none is likely to pay state tax after three years, according to one economic analysis.”

“Those tax payments are being reduced by tax credits equal to $208 million a year, according to a Colorado Legislative Council staff analysis.”

The piece continues: “The size and role of energy taxes varies across the West, with Colorado having one of the lowest rates. Some states have raised more and turned it into a statewide benefit.”

“Wyoming collects about $1 billion a year and uses the money to fund highway and water projects and to provide grants to all cities and towns based on population.”

“A portion goes to a trust fund, now valued at $6.2 billion, whose interest, dividends and capital gains go to the Wyoming general fund.”

“Montana is using oil and gas taxes for statewide property tax relief.”

TX: ‘Railroads Filling Void as Oil Pipeline Falls Short’

The Texas Tribune reports that “in December, a new terminal in the Port of Beaumont welcomed its first customer: a train carrying 43,000 barrels of crude oil from Colorado. Workers at the terminal, the Jefferson Transload Railport, transferred the crude to a barge, which traveled down the Neches River to a nearby refinery.”

“As shale fields scattered across the Midwest and West Texas produce millions of barrels of crude oil, energy companies are finding the national pipeline network insufficient to transport their output. Railroads are increasingly picking up the slack, and Jefferson Energy Companies, based in The Woodlands, is one of several companies investing millions of dollars to help transport crude by rail, a business that was nearly nonexistent just five years ago.”

“’We never thought we competed with pipeline until four years ago when we moved our first unit train of crude by rail,’ Dean Wise, a vice president for BNSF Railway, based in Fort Worth, said at a rail conference in January. ‘Now BNSF is moving eight trains a day.’”

“In Texas, the crude-by-rail boom has led to construction of facilities to help deliver the product to Gulf Coast refineries. It has also drawn concerns about the safety of moving such volatile materials throughout the state, in light of a spate of recent accidents.”

Transportation Pollution Biggest Threat to Global Climate

Bloomberg: “Emissions from transportation may rise at the fastest rate of all major sources through 2050, the United Nations will say in a report due April 13. Heat-trapping gases from vehicles may surge 71 percent from 2010 levels, mainly from emerging economies, according to a leaked draft of the most comprehensive UN study to date on the causes of climate change.”

“Rising incomes in nations like China, India and Brazil have produced explosive demand for cars and for consumer goods that must be delivered by highway, rail, ship or air. The new pollution, measured in millions of tons of greenhouse gases, may exceed all of the savings achieved through initiatives like subsidies for public transport and fuel efficiency.”

“Global car sales will rise 4 percent to 70.2 million in 2014 from last year, and are forecast to jump 27 percent by 2020, according to IHS Inc. The researcher expects demand to peak around 100 million units.”

“A decrease in emissions may come from government policies to change driving behavior, investments in public transport, substituting oil-based fuels in cars, ships and airplanes with natural gas, biofuels or renewable electricity, and new technologies such as lightweight vehicles and electric cars.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Editorial: ‘Extracting a Sane Energy Policy Around Methane’

ICYMI: The Washington Post ran an editorial on Methane on Apr. 4: “Will the United States’ energy revolution hurt the planet or help it? Will fracking for natural gas make fighting climate change harder or easier? Can the United States meet its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020? The answer to all of these crucial questions could depend on a colorless, odorless gas that shows up all over the place.”

“The substance is methane, the primary component in natural gas. Methane rises from landfills, escapes from coal mines, exits from cows’ posteriors, seeps out of drilling sites and leaks from the pipes that transport the fuel to large power plants and countertop stoves. Burning methane produces about half the heat-trapping carbon dioxide as burning coal, the greatest climate villain of the fossil fuels. But, uncombusted, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right, a heat-trapper many times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the long term, carbon dioxide is the major worry, because methane does not linger and accumulate in the atmosphere the way carbon dioxide does. But the continuing release of large amounts of methane is still a big problem — accounting for about a tenth of the country’s greenhouse emissions, a proportion that could well rise without more effort to reduce it. Methane emissions can also foul local air, encouraging the formation of harmful ozone.”

US DOE: Green Means Nuclear, Too

CNBC reported this week that “the U.S. Department of Energy wants the public to know that its $30 billion program to support alternative energy projects is alive and well—and there’s more than just solar and wind power in the mix.”

“Think nuclear power.”

“In an interview with CNBC, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz declared the contentious green technology loan program “open for business.” As memories of the 2011 political scandal around solar panel maker Solyndra fade, Moniz touted a portfolio of more than 30 projects that he said are creating a blueprint for successful renewable energy funding.”

IKEA Invests in U.S. Wind Farm, Joins Growing Trend

The Chicago Tribune reports that “home goods giant Ikea is building a wind farm in downstate Illinois large enough to ensure that its stores will never have to buy a single kilowatt of power again.”

“’It’s about taking care of the environment and living within our means,’ said Rob Olson, chief financial officer of Ikea U.S.”

“With the project, Ikea’s first wind investment in the U.S., the company is among a growing number of companies taking care of their energy needs by buying or investing in power produced by the wind and sun.”

“Microsoft announced late last year it would purchase power from a 55 turbine wind farm in Texas. At the same time, Facebook announced it would power its new Iowa data centerusing wind energy from a wind farm MidAmerican Energy is constructing in the state. Over the last few years, Google has been ticking up its wind power purchases and investing in wind projects in Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.”

CA Pushes Bills Against Fracking

Bloomberg BNA reports that “the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water Quality advanced measures April 8 seeking to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing activities at oil and gas fields in California and to update the state’s oil spill response program to address the risks of importing crude oil by rail.”

“Both bills now head to the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality for further action.”

“The measure to halt oil and gas well stimulation treatments cleared the committee on a 5-2 vote. The bill to update the state’s oil spill prevention and response program cleared the committee on a 7-1 vote.”

Keystone XL Pipeline Deadline Sought by 11 Senate Democrats

Democratic senators who favor completing the Keystone XL pipeline, including some of the party’s most vulnerable senators up for re-election, are once again prodding the White House to make up its mind, reports Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski.

In a new letter to President Barack Obama, 11 Democrats are making a pre-recess push for a May 31 deadline for action. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota spearheaded the new letter along with new Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.

Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Warner of Virginia, Kay Hagan of North Carolina joined Montana Democrats Jon Tester and John Walsh in signing on to the letter with Heitkamp and Landrieu. Begich, Pryor, Landrieu, Hagan and Walsh are all facing the voters this fall in states lost by Obama in 2012.

The senators also want Secretary of State John Kerry to move swiftly to report on the national interest determination related to the Keystone project after a current period for comment runs out.

The full text of the letter to Obama is posted, as well.

Climate Change a Polarizing Issue Under Obama

Timothy Cama comments on the widening divide between advocates and skeptics over climate change, “with both sides growing more certain of their convictions.”

“Experts and lawmakers broadly agree that climate change has become a more polarizing issue during President Obama’s time in the White House.”

“While Democrats feel that drastic government actions are necessary, Republicans are wary of taking aggressive steps that could stifle the economy, and question whether the scientific proof is strong enough to justify such action.”

“The skepticism of Republicans is exacerbated when Democratic lawmakers and Obama push for new regulations, such as the push for stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.”

“If there is on area of climate change policy where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground, it is on energy efficiency. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have strong bipartisan support for legislation they’ve sponsored that would incentivize energy efficiency in homes, commercial buildings, industry and the federal government.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Taking Action on Climate Change: Tone Down the Hysteria

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger make the case that real progress on climate change is in danger of being stymied by hysterical rhetoric.

“More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.”

“A frequently cited 2009 study in the journal Science Communication summed up the scholarly consensus. ‘Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern … They clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.’”

“Many climate advocates ignore these findings, arguing that they have an obligation to convey the alarming facts.”

“What works, say environmental pollsters and researchers, is focusing on popular solutions.”

Andrew Revkin concurs, citing a recent article by Columbia University’s Earth Institute director Steven Cohen, to make his case.

“The piece appropriately decries caricatured, baseless attacks on climate science by conservative ideologues and those seeking to delay a shift away from fossil fuels. But Cohen also criticizes climate campaigners and some in the media for responding with oversimplified predictions of environmental doom.”

Cohen stresses “the importance of government policies that can drive the development and dissemination of low-carbon energy technologies.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Experts Urge Obama to Reject Keystone XL

The Hill: “More than 100 scientists and economists sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry Monday urging them to block the Keystone XL pipeline project, saying it would worsen climate change.”

“’We must address climate change by de-carbonizing our energy supply,’ the writers said. ‘A critical first step is to stop making climate change worse by tapping into disproportionately carbon-intensive energy sources like tar sands bitumen.’”

“Over its 50-year expected lifetime, the pipeline would produce the equivalent of 8.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. ‘These are emissions that can and should be avoided with a transition to clean energy,’ the scientists and economists said.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

CO Considers Bill to Increase Oil & Gas Industry Fines

Natural Gas Intelligence reports that “with support from the oil/gas industry, Colorado lawmakers are recrafting a bill (HB 1356) this session to increase maximum fines that can be assessed against oil and natural gas operators for “significant waste of oil/gas resources.” Similar legislation was defeated last year.”

“HB 1356 would raise the maximum daily penalty from $1,000 to $15,000 in cases where the violation doesn’t result in a “significant waste of oil and gas resources,” or damage correlative rights, resulting in a significant adverse impact on public health, safety and welfare. This would be Colorado’s first increase since 1955.”

“The legislation would direct the state Oil/Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC) to create a process for determining when violations start and end, assessing the fines for the number of days involved. OGCC would also have to publish quarterly reports on the fines assessed.”

Cyber Attacks Concern of Oil & Gas Industry

The Greeley (CO) Tribune reports that “Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, says that retailers aren’t the only victims. He says that energy companies — including the oil and gas industry — were targeted in 41 percent of the malicious software-attack cases reported to the Department of Homeland Security in 2012.”

“While these attacks are growing and becoming more sophisticated, the U.S. has been taking steps to head this off by developing tighter security and working more closely with foreign officials. To that end, President Barack Obama has signed an executive order to improve cyber security for critical infrastructure, such as the oil and gas industry.”

Hearings Set in LA Lawsuits over Wetlands

The Lens reports that “a high-profile lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East is not the only lawsuit under assault by the oil and gas industry and its allies in the state Legislature.”

“They are also trying to kill lawsuits filed by two parishes – Jefferson and Plaquemines – that say oil and gas companies dredged coastal wetlands to drill their wells and then violated state permits by failing to restore them to their previous condition.

“’I think it’s being driven by Big Oil,’ said John Carmouche, part of the Baton Rouge-based law firm that filed the parishes’ lawsuits. ‘Big Oil is the party that destroyed the coast and is responsible. They are trying to get immunity from the courts.’

“‘That’s nice rhetoric,’ countered Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, whose members include the major oil companies. ‘But the parishes don’t have jurisdiction to enforce state permits. If they have a beef against the state, they should go to the state.’”

“The effort to kill those two lawsuits gets its first hearing next week before the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee. The matter was initially set for Tuesday, but was moved back so it could be the only item on the agenda, giving the public more time for comments.”

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