Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/26/2017

On Tuesday, President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal was released and it includes deep cuts in climate science and clean energy research.  These cuts are consistent with the Administration’s emphasis on “energy dominance”, rather than “energy independence.”  Brad Plumer at The New York Times provided an analysis of how budget cuts at DOE will impact climate change.  On Wednesday, Trump met with Pope Francis, who gave Trump a copy of his 2015 encyclical letter on the environment and climate change, which Trump promised to read.  Meanwhile, back in the U.S., 40 Senate Democrats sent Trump a letter urging him to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement, but 22 Senate Republicans urged him to pull out.  However, law experts said that the Republicans got their legal arguments wrong.  The National Association of Manufacturers filed court documents on Monday saying it no longer wanted to join the federal government in the lawsuit against it by 21 children who claim that they have been harmed by the government’s failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.  On Thursday, both the American Petroleum Institute and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers followed suit.  We can expect more lawsuits about climate change in the future since the number of cases is increasing.

Citizen’s Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend, received some good press this week.  If you aren’t familiar with their work, you may want to read the article, or watch the segment about them from “Years of Living Dangerously”.  A survey of more than 8,000 people in eight countries – the United States, China, India, Britain, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Germany – found that 84% of people now consider climate change a “global catastrophic risk”.  So, that raises the question, “Why is it so difficult to act against climate change and other disruptions to Earth’s ecosystem?”.  A new review in Science examined that question and helps us see what to do.

Climate

Following his confirmation hearings, now EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated in written comments: “over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming.”  A new paper, published in Nature Scientific Reports, tested that statement using three different data sets and found that they did not support the statement.

The Great Barrier Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan, released in 2015, has the goal of improving the natural heritage values of the reef.  However, experts have told the Reef advisory committee that due to the extensive damage associated with back-to-back coral bleaching episodes in 2015 and 2016, that goal was no longer achievable.

A paper in the journal Nature Communications reported that the number of frost-free days in the contiguous U.S. has increased in the past 100 years: 13 days in the north, 10.7 days in the west, 8.6 days in the central region, and 7.7 days in the south.  In addition, a new paper in Nature Climate Change reported that by midcentury, half of the global population (primarily those in the tropics) are likely to experience climatic conditions that are virtually unheard of for the region in the present climate.

New research, published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, has found that heavy rainfall events in the spring and fall in the northeastern U.S. were 84% more common from 1996 to 2014 than from 1901 to 1995.

Sea ice in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea is melting a month earlier than usual, in part due to the Arctic’s record-warm winter.

A new paper, just out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reexamined sea level records from 1901 to 1990 considering what we now know about global variation in sea level rise and concluded that the average annual rate over that period was 1.1 mm/y, which is in good agreement with a 2015 study, but lower than others.  They then estimated the rate of sea level rise from 1993-2012 using modern techniques and found it to be 3.1 mm/y, indicating a large acceleration.  A second paper related to sea level rise, in Nature Scientific Reports, included authors from USGS.  When they submitted a press release to the Department of Interior (DOI) for approval, DOI deleted a line that discussed the role climate change played in sea level rise.

Energy

A new paper in the journal Energy Economics calls into question a key assumption in the business-as-usual emissions pathway (RCP 8.5) used by the IPCC in projecting possible future climate change.  According to the paper, RCP 8.5 was based on all geologically identified coal, not the fraction it may be possible to dig up.  However, Noah Kaufman, a climate economist at the World Resources Institute said, “This seems like a plausible emissions pathway to consider, and perhaps the heavy use of coal is just a proxy for advances in high-carbon technologies that will enable this pathway,” such as tar sands or frozen methane sheets in the ocean, called hydrates.

On Monday, Tucson Electric Power, an Arizona utility company, announced that it had reached an agreement to buy solar power for 3¢/kWh, a “historically low price” for the U.S.  Meanwhile, the International Trade Commission launched an investigation into whether the U.S. government should impose tariffs on certain imported solar panel technology.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality admitted Wednesday that it provided inaccurate information nearly seven weeks ago about how it plans to handle the review of potential water quality impacts of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.  In other Virginia news, Dominion Virginia Power filed for permission from the State Corporation Commission to offer 100% renewable energy to commercial and industrial customers with peak loads of over 1,000 kilowatts.

Over time, I have provided links to several articles about carbon capture and storage (CCS), many of which have focused on the challenges of applying the technology.  NET Power, a start-up company in Houston, TX, has a unique approach to CCS, by burning natural gas in the presence of pure oxygen, thereby producing an exhaust gas stream of pure CO2, which they compress to supercritical conditions and use to drive a generating turbine before sending the CO2 down a well.  An article from Science provided a good explanation of their process, which promises to provide zero-emission power from a fossil fuel.  Unfortunately, the fate of NET Power may have less to do with the efficiency and innovativeness of their technology, than with the electricity generating overcapacity resulting from the glut of natural gas.  Unfortunately, CCS research will likely suffer from the 87% cut proposed in President Trump’s 2018 budget.  Also, supercritical CO2 research is in danger, even though it offers great promise for a number of generating technologies.

Daimler AG, which makes Mercedes-Benz cars, is planning to build a lithium-ion battery factory in Germany to rival Telsa’s gigafactory.  In addition, battery factories are being planned in Sweden, Hungary, and Poland.  The output from these factories will be used in electric cars and for energy storage.

A report by the Netherlands government’s Environmental Assessment Agency said that off-grid renewable electricity could be the lowest cost option for providing electricity to the more than 600 million Africans who currently live without it.  However, Kenya has signed a $2 billion contract with Chinese company Power Global to finance a new coal-fired power plant adjacent to a UNESCO world heritage site.

Canada plans to phase in tougher regulations on the emission of methane over the next six years.  Rules requiring companies to control methane leaks and the release of methane from compressors are to take effect starting in 2020, whereas regulations on methane venting and its release from pneumatic devices would come into force in 2023.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., the EPA has announced it will delay rules aimed at cutting methane emissions from landfills.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

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