Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/6/2018

Policy and Politics

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday.  Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, will serve as Acting Administrator until President Trump nominates a new administrator and the Senate acts on the nomination.  The Trump administration has drafted a new proposal to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants, one that is far less stringent than the Clean Power Plan.  The U.S. will fall far short of its pollution reduction goals under the Paris Climate Agreement, according to a new report from the Rhodium Group, a private market research firm.  Over 20 national and state conservative groups are urging the Trump administration to reject the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol that aims to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases.  China’s CO2 emissions fell from 2014 to 2016 and might already have peaked, according to a study published on Monday in Nature Geoscience.  Ontario’s newly elected Progressive Conservative government announced on Tuesday it would end the province’s cap-and-trade program on CO2 emissions, fulfilling one of Premier Doug Ford’s election promises.

The four-day meeting of the Green Climate Fund collapsed with the abrupt resignation of the chairman and with no decisions on funding 11 proposals worth nearly $1 billion or on how to increase the main climate finance initiative’s dwindling resources.  China did not appear on a June 29 list of participants in the voluntary phase of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) deal, which requires airlines to limit their emissions or offset them by buying carbon credits.  Rhode Island on Monday became the first state to sue oil companies over the effects of climate change, filing a complaint in Providence/Bristol County Superior Court seeking damages for the costs associated with protecting the state from rising seas and severe weather.  David Hasemyer has provided a review of the major climate change lawsuits, indicating where they now stand.  Colorado has an innovative program of installing solar panels on the houses of low-income residents who have already had their homes weatherized, thereby lowering their energy costs even more.

Joseph Robertson, Global Strategy Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, had an opinion piece entitled “Declare energy independence with carbon dividends” in The Guardian and The Chicago Tribune had an editorial on the topic.  At Yale Climate Connections, Amy Brady interviewed Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore.  In the interview, Rush described her book as “a collaborative process where my responsibility was to the speakers and to their lived experience.”  Earther reported that Dulce, a ten-minute documentary short about climate change, is beautifully shot.  Architectural Digest had an interesting article about the ways architects are working to reduce energy use by buildings, which currently use 39% of the U.S.’s energy.

Climate

We are all aware that the northeastern U.S. went through a heat wave this past week.  So did Canada, where 33 people died in Quebec.  Climate Signals has reported that hot nights in the contiguous 48 states have been increasing, a sign that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are driving the long-term trends in temperatures.  The U.S. is not alone in experiencing record high temperatures this summer.  So have many other parts of the world, including the UK, which has also been experiencing drought.

A new paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters explored the costs associated with sea level rise as the world warms.  If we miss the 2°C target, sea level would likely rise by 2.8 to 5.9 ft, with global annual flood costs without adaptation of $14 trillion to $27 trillion by 2100.

Carbon Brief had a guest post entitled “How use of land in pursuit of 1.5°C could impact biodiversity” by Prof. Pete Smith, a lead author on the IPCC’s forthcoming special report on climate change and land.  An important question to arise from their deliberations is whether and/or when to apply bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to achieve the negative emissions required to limit warming to 1.5°C.

In a report released on Thursday, Australia’s Climate Council warned that by the 2030s the Great Barrier Reef could see devastating mass bleachings as often as every two years unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced.  In addition, new research, recently published in Nature Climate Change, describes a series of sudden and catastrophic ecosystem shifts that have occurred recently across Australia.  These changes, caused by the combined stress of gradual climate change and extreme weather events, are overwhelming ecosystems’ natural resilience.

Raising cows and other ruminants has severe negative impacts on the climate.  Two articles this week reviewed ways to reduce those impacts.  One of the major problems associated with ruminants such as cows is that they belch copious quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  Attacking the problem directly, scientists have discovered that adding a particular species of dried seaweed to cows’ feed can drastically decrease their methane production.  Another alternative is to eliminate animal production for food altogether by growing animal tissue (i.e., “fake meat”) in bioreactors in an industrial-scale facility.  Writing in Wired, Joi Ito reviewed the six levels of what he calls “cellular agriculture.”

Energy

Because of heavy rains and its inability to control runoff from construction sites, Mountain Valley Pipeline suspended work on the massive natural gas pipeline in Southwest Virginia.  On Tuesday environmental advocates filed a petition with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking it to review a federal permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  The Virginia Supreme Court has upheld, for the third time, a hotly debated state law allowing natural gas companies to enter private property without landowner permission to survey possible routes for new pipelines.  Bills introduced by Virginia 9th District Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, to extend deadlines for the start of construction of hydroelectric projects at the Gathright Dam in Alleghany County and the Flannagan Dam in Dickenson County cleared the Senate last Friday, after the House passed them on June 12.

The Ohio Power Siting Board has recommended conditional approval of the $126 million “Icebreaker” six-turbine off-shore wind energy project in Lake Erie, proposed by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.  The project will be eight to ten miles northwest of downtown Cleveland.  The staff has included more than 34 conditions, including a bird and bat monitoring plan.  Recent studies have provided considerable information on minimizing the danger to birds and bats from wind turbines.

Swiss Re announced it is no longer providing re/insurance to businesses with more than 30% exposure to thermal coal across all lines of business.  It is joining other insurers that have decided to abandon investments in coal-based businesses and/or stop providing coverage for such risks.

A new paper in the journal Science Advances explored the possibility of storing CO2 in the unconsolidated sediment on the sea floor.  The researchers concluded that such storage was feasible, assuming that the subsea sediment remained intact and did not become fractured in the future.

Even though the UK government cancelled a large tidal energy project last week, there is still considerable interest in the idea.  Damian Carrington reviewed the large range of concepts currently under study for generating electricity with tidal power.  Fossil fuels supplied about 80% of the energy consumed in the United States in 2017, the lowest share since 1902, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy.

With more plug-in hybrids and EVs hitting the road, the question arises as to what to do with their batteries when they no longer have sufficient capacity to power the vehicles.  One answer is to apply them to less demanding tasks, such as energy storage in homes.  When they are no longer suited to that task, they can then be recycled and their elements recovered.  Also, because of the projected increase in EV sales, oil companies are eying EV charging as a way to maintain income as gasoline and diesel fuel sales drop.  The problem is, electric utilities also want that market, setting up a major competitive battle.

Pacific Gas & Electric is seeking approval for four energy storage projects totaling 567 MW/2.27 GWh. Among the four projects are two that would be the largest lithium ion batteries globally on their own and one that would be the world’s largest chemical battery.  Meanwhile, Chinese EV battery makers are frantically building lithium-ion battery gigafactories, including one that will be the largest in the world.

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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