Policy and Politics
The big news this week on the policy front was the announcement of the Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which substantially rolled back regulations limiting CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. Nevertheless, according to Brad Plumer at The New York Times, “… the reality on the ground for the nation’s coal industry remains bleak.” One reason the Trump administration was able to propose a weak replacement for the CPP is that they used a much lower value for the social cost of carbon. Brad Plumer also summarized the impacts on climate change of the CPP replacement and the proposed rollback of auto efficiency standards. In addition, the EPA itself said the CPP replacement will result in 1,400 additional premature deaths each year due to pollution, with those deaths falling disproportionately on poor and minority communities in places like southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Missouri. Several states were critical of the change and promised to challenge it in the courts. Included in the CPP replacement is a change in the New Source Review program that will allow an increase in the total amount of pollutants emitted when an old power plant undergoes an upgrade. The New York Times also fact checked President Trump’s claims about coal, the environment, and West Virginia. Analysis by the Rhodium Group has revealed that 25 states are likely to beat their emission targets under the CPP despite its repeal, 10 states are close to meeting their targets, but could miss, and 12 states will likely miss their targets. (Note: 3 states were excluded from the CPP.)
In what has to be the biggest example of chutzpah ever seen, Texas and its petroleum industry want the federal government to help pay for a nearly 60-mile “spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates, and steel levees on the Gulf Coast to help protect the industry from the consequences of climate change. The price of carbon on the European Union carbon market is becoming high enough to impact fuel choices for power generation. In a report published on Tuesday, think tank Carbon Tracker forecast the price hitting $29/t by the end of 2018 and averaging $41-$47/t over 2019-23. After dropping a national policy to cut carbon emissions from the energy sector that was supposed to help Australia fulfill its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was still ousted by his own party and replaced by Scott Morrison. Damien Cave examined why Australian politicians are divided even more on climate policy than U.S. ones. The State Water Control Board in Virginia considered revoking permits for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipelines during a hearing Tuesday, but in the end simply pushed for stricter enforcement of state regulations. The Advisory Council on Environmental Justice recommended that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam rescind Clean Water Act certifications for the two pipelines and not issue any more permits in order to protect minority communities along their routes. The Economist has addressed the question of how to design a carbon tax.
Millennial climate scientist Kate Marvel has written “Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.” Writing about her and other millennials, Eric Holthaus has concluded that “The aim of climate activism isn’t to erase the sins of the previous generations; it’s to ensure that future generations are handed a world that isn’t at the threshold of going to hell.” Of course, climate change is not just something for future generations, it is already impacting many people, especially those that are marginalized. It may be more difficult for millennials and others to take direct action because dozens of bills and executive orders have been introduced in at least 31 states since January 2017 that aim to restrict high-profile protests of fossil fuel projects. Here is how things are playing out in Louisiana, which recently enacted such a law. Female scientists are not immune to the sexual harassment experienced by women in many occupations. Unfortunately, for female climate scientists, the harassment has been particularly vitriolic, leading many to fear for their safety. If you are interested in what has happened in Puerto Rico since last year’s hurricanes, Wired has an article on it.
A study of the forests of Central Europe suggests the higher temperatures—combined with pollution from auto exhaust and farms—are making wood weaker, resulting in trees that break more easily and lumber that is less durable. Speaking of plant growth, new research has found that over the past 30 years, the areas across the globe where cold temperatures limit it have declined by 16%.
With wildfires continuing in the western U.S., Bob Berwyn of Inside Climate News examined how they can affect climate change. New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found “previously unnoted” declines in summer rainfall across almost a third of forests in the western U.S. over the past four decades. These declines are “strongly correlated” with wildfire increases.
On Sept. 15, NASA will launch the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) about 300 miles above Earth, where it will use six lasers to measure the changing heights of Earth’s polar ice over the course of its three-year mission, which can be extended to as many as 10 years. The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer.
Sea level rise is impacting home values along the East Coast, but so far it is mainly reducing the rate at which homes appreciate. A growing body of research by economists and climate scientists shows that extreme weather will increasingly harm economic growth. Yet almost no mainstream economic forecasting model takes this into account, which could affect the accuracy of economic predictions.
Although the data can only be considered to be preliminary and the studies need to be replicated, scientists in both Siberia and Alaska have reported that in some regions the active layer above the permafrost did not refreeze this past winter. If this represents the beginning of a trend, the implications are concerning.
A review paper in Nature Communications has examined the links between Arctic warming and summer weather in the Northern Hemisphere. In particular, three hypotheses were reviewed: warming could weaken certain eastward blowing winds, cause the jet stream to shift southward, and cause the jet stream to meander up and down.
A floating tidal stream turbine off the coast of Orkney produced 3GWh of renewable electricity during its first year of testing at the European Marine Energy Center. This is the greatest amount of energy produced by a tidal generator to date.
Jan Ellen Spiegel has an article at Yale Climate Connections reviewing the short history of off-shore wind energy in the U.S. and looking ahead to its hopefully rosy future. Its message is reinforced by three new reports released Thursday on the state of U.S. wind power that show how the industry is expanding onshore with bigger, more powerful turbines that make wind energy possible even in areas with lower wind speeds. Offshore, the reports describe a wind industry poised for a market breakthrough.
In the past I’ve provided links to articles about fully electric long-haul trucks. Writing at Bloomberg, Brianna Jackson outlined some of the challenges they will face trying to unseat diesel engines as the power trains of choice. Regarding passenger electric vehicles (EVs), experts suggest the freezing of CAFE standards through 2026 alone likely won’t slow EV growth, but the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back California’s waivers to institute stricter emissions rules and EV mandates could have an impact.
As an example of the continued penetration of battery storage into electric power systems in the U.S., a renewable energy developer filed applications with the Montana Public Service Commission to build 320 MW of wind and 160 MW/640 MWh of battery storage spread over four separate projects in the state. A new report from GTM Research predicts that global lithium-ion battery deployments for utility-scale energy storage will grow by 55% annually over the next five years. However, because of cost we can’t depend upon lithium-ion batteries for all the energy storage we will need if all electricity is provided by renewable sources. An article from July 27 (which we missed) estimated it would cost $2.7 trillion for the U.S. to provide the needed storage with the batteries. A Swiss startup says it can provide storage much more cheaply, just by stacking concrete blocks. Or, perhaps someday we will be able to use lithium-oxygen batteries for utility-scale storage, at 1/10 the volume of lithium-ion batteries. They are still a long way from application, but they are another example of what may come to pass.
Inside Climate News reported that the tariffs on imported solar panels imposed by the Trump administration six months ago have done little to dampen the booming solar market in the U.S. In an effort to cut the cost of clean electricity, power utilities around the world are supersizing their solar farms, although there are limits.
Halogen lightbulbs will be banned across Europe on 1 September, to be replaced by LEDs.
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.