Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/30/2018

Policy and Politics

The results of the latest Gallup poll on climate change show that the partisan gap has widened slightly since last year’s poll.  The increase may be driven in part by the skepticism of the Trump administration, as evidenced by the “talking points” given to EPA employees this week, instructing them to emphasize the uncertainties concerning climate science, and negotiations to roll back automotive fuel efficiency standards.  Speaking of the EPA, Margaret Talbot has an in-depth article in The New Yorker entitled “Scott Pruitt’s Dirty Politics: How the Environmental Protection Agency became the fossil-fuel industry’s best friend”.  A coalition of environmental groups is teaming up for a multi-pronged campaign to try to get Pruitt fired or to resign.  With respect to fuel efficiency standards, a new blog post at the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate 411 site discusses five things we should all know about them.  The Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions from oil and gas development on public lands is fully in force for now, but oil and gas lawyers say companies can’t follow the standards because BLM doesn’t have the right systems in place for compliance.  U.S. District Court judge Brian Morris ordered Montana’s and Wyoming’s BLM officials to rewrite their plans for coal mining on public lands and factor in the impacts of climate change.

Thirteen years after it was created to limit CO2 emissions, Europe’s $38 billion a year carbon market is finally starting to work the way it was intended.  Energy Secretary Rick Perry still hasn’t given up on his attempt to prop up coal-fired power plants, now using the recent northeasters to argue for their necessity.  However, a study released Monday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that barely half of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. earned enough revenue last year to cover their operating expenses.  FirstEnergy Corp. petitioned Perry for an emergency order to save its coal and nuclear plants from closing, but competing power sources accused FirstEnergy of misleading the Energy Department and the public into thinking the electric grid is at a far higher risk of failure without coal and nuclear plants than it is.  A provision in legislation that passed last month to increase U.S. government spending limits is expected to cause new carbon capture and sequestration projects to be started.  As the demonstrated by the state of Washington, climate change policy is proving difficult to enact, even in liberal states.  Wells Griffith has reportedly been picked as President Trump’s senior advisor on international climate policy.  He would join the National Economic Council, coordinating White House efforts on international energy and climate issues.  E&E News has a profile.

Dana Nuccitelli has an interesting, if somewhat wonky, piece in The Guardian about the definition of “preindustrial” with respect to global warming and the carbon budget.  The issue is important for setting governmental policy to limit climate change (except in the U.S. right now).  Yale Climate Connections has compiled a list of books on energy and society.  Part 1 provides books that give overviews, fossil fuel development, and contrasting visions of fossil fuels’ future.  On the subject of books, science teachers have received books about climate change over the past year, some of which present mainstream science, and some of which don’t.

Climate

A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that Greenland is melting at the fastest rate in at least the past 450 years, and possibly in the past 5,000 years.  Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year on March 17, attaining an area that was the second smallest in the 39-year satellite record, although just barely, being almost as small as 2017.

A new NOAA report projects that by 2100, high tide flooding will occur every other day, on average, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S., even under a moderate emissions scenario.  Still, there is some good news about sea level rise, as shown in this month’s Yale Climate Connections “This is Not Cool” video.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has released a series of reports assessing biodiversity for four major regions around the world, as well another examining global land degradation.  According to the reports, climate change, along with factors like land degradation and habitat loss, is emerging as a top threat to wildlife around the globe.

In a resolution adopted on Tuesday as part of a renewed mandate for assistance and peacekeeping in Somalia, the U.N. Security Council noted “the adverse effects of climate change, ecological changes and natural disasters among other factors on the stability of Somalia, including through drought, desertification, land degradation, and food insecurity”.  A study published Thursday in the Journal of Climate found that the Sahara Desert is expanding, in part due to climate change.

New research, published Monday in the journal Ecosphere, shows that half of Alberta’s boreal forest could disappear in just over 80 years due to wildfires and climate change.

Energy

On Monday, Royal Dutch Shell released its Sky scenario, whereby the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement can be attained.  Under the scenario, oil use would drop as cars become electric, a massive carbon storage industry would develop, and transportation would begin to shift toward a reliance on hydrogen as an energy carrier.  Carbon Brief provided an in-depth look at the report.  Also on Monday, a paper published in Nature Climate Change concluded that massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will be required to keep global warming between 1.5 and 2.0°C, although it may not be necessary to eliminate all emissions.  Furthermore, if those cuts are made early enough, it may not be necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  China reached its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal last year, its government said.

Softbank Group Corp. and Saudi Arabia have signed a memorandum of understanding to create a 200 GW solar initiative in the country by 2030.  When coupled with the planned construction of several nuclear power plants, the initiative will greatly reduce the country’s reliance on oil and gas.

Trees were in the news along the routes of two proposed gas pipelines.  Along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), people were in the trees, as well as on a pole in the middle of an access road.  However, Virginia environmental regulators approved erosion, sediment, and stormwater management plans for the MVP, which is now authorized to begin construction in the state.  FERC denied a request from developers of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline to continue cutting trees along the project’s route beyond an initial deadline designed to protect birds and bats.  Meanwhile, pipeline construction is having a positive impact on jobs in West Virginia.

Natural gas has become the No. 1 power source in the U.S., but that status may be shifting, particularly in the west because of the low cost of wind energy.  Ivan Penn explored the forces influencing gas at The New York Times.

American Electric Power Company plans to build a 2 GW wind farm in the Oklahoma panhandle that will cover 300,000 acres.  To do so, they want to use a method of financing that has been used to build nuclear, coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, but not renewable energy facilities.  As America’s biggest wind farms age, their owners are starting to “repower” them with more efficient turbines, new electronics, and longer, lighter blades that can sweep more wind with each rotation.

Since 2009 the electric power grid has gotten cleaner, thanks to more use of natural gas and less use of coal for generation, and more solar and wind.  As a consequence, the emissions associated with electric vehicles (EVs) have decreased, so that today, on average, an EV has the equivalent emissions of a gas car that gets 80 mpg.  Maryland’s utilities propose spending $104 million on a statewide electric-vehicle charging network containing 24,000 residential, workplace, and public charging stations.

Yet another study has been published, this one in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, addressing the question of whether U.S. electricity needs could be met with wind and solar power alone.  This one looked at several mixes of wind and solar, finding that the mixes determined the percent of needs met.

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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