Politics and Policy
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 11-9 to advance Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) nomination to head the Interior Department to the full chamber. Meanwhile, Interior is moving to lock in key parts of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, particularly on oil and gas restrictions. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said she is ready to reactivate her department’s loan program that went mostly unused in the last four years and has more than $40 billion in funds to boost the transition to clean energy. She also said the tens of billions of dollars in funding the agency plans to pour into the clean energy sector will likely require companies to create the high-paying jobs promised by Biden. Ella Nilson of Vox spoke with National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy about how to achieve a clean energy economy, how to put forgotten coal communities back to work, and how to boost unionization rates to ensure that new energy jobs actually do pay high wages. While policies and proposals in some states acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry and are working for a just transition, others are denying it and fighting against it; the difference is largely due to the absence of a cohesive national energy transition policy.
The American Petroleum Institute is edging closer to endorsing a carbon tax, but as an alternative to federal regulation and policies aimed at slowing climate change. The US Trade Representative’s office said a carbon border adjustment would be considered as part of an effort to develop market and regulatory approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. US climate envoy John Kerry urged oil and gas companies to do more to diversify and adopt low-carbon technologies to tackle climate change. Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone discussed with Kerry whether the US will finally lead on climate. Senior House Energy and Commerce Democrats unveiled a template of their plan to combat climate change this Congress — an expanded version of last year’s “CLEAN Future Act” — that would take a sector-by-sector approach to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. On the same day, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) said that he would reintroduce the “Clean Energy Future through Innovation Act of 2020” as an alternative to the “CLEAN Future Act.”
The Biden administration asked the US Court of International Trade to dismiss a complaint from some members of the solar industry arguing that the tariffs on bifacial solar cells are unlawful. Deputy Transportation Secretary nominee Polly Trottenberg said the department would analyze the ruling of the International Trade Commission that SK Innovation Co misappropriated trade secrets related to electric vehicle (EV) battery technology from LG Chem. Bloomberg NEF forecast that solar, wind, and batteries will attract $10 trillion in investments through 2050; consequently, US manufacturing of clean energy equipment is gaining traction. Several states will likely follow California and adopt stricter vehicle emissions standards if the Biden administration greenlights those efforts. The consortium that oversees the model building codes for much of the US has stripped local governments of their right to vote on future codes, thereby establishing a major roadblock to decarbonizing the US economy.
All planned coal projects around the world must be cancelled to end the “deadly addiction” to the fossil fuel, UN secretary-general António Guterres said at the opening of a summit of the Powering Past Coal Alliance. China succeeded in lowering its “carbon intensity” (the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP) by 18.8% in the five years through 2020, and plans to cut it by another 13.5% during the 2021-2025 period. However, China’s coal consumption is expected to continue rising in 2021. The British government has been hit by two reports criticizing its performance on climate change — one saying it has “no plan” to meet climate change targets two years after adopting them and the other that the UN climate conference scheduled for November will fail unless its goals are made clear. Hungary announced that its last coal-fired power plant will be shut down in 2025 instead of 2030.
Climate and Climate Science
Last week I included an article about the weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). This week, The New York Times (NYT) had an article with excellent graphics explaining current research to better understand the AMOC and the impact of climate change on it.
Officials in Miami-Dade County, where climate models predict two feet or more of sea-level rise by 2060, have released an upbeat strategy for living with more water, although climate experts warned that the plan downplays the magnitude of the threat. Because climate change is causing heavier rain storms and more flooding, it is a significant concern that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the US’s flood control infrastructure a D grade and estimated the cost of rehabilitating all US dams at $93.6 billion.
A newly released paper in the journal Science concluded that the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) is very likely an artifact of climate change. Because of the relationship between the AMO and hurricane activity, this discovery, if true, means that humans — not natural variability — have been the main driving force in the up-and-down cycles of hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean. During the most recent 30-year period — 1991 to 2020 — there has been an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity.
While the US was experiencing some of the coldest weather in a century during February, large areas of the globe were basking in the warmest weather ever observed during winter. Almost 80% of the Western US is in drought, with nearly 42% of the region in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. Hundreds of butterfly species across the American West are vanishing as the region becomes hotter, drier, and more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Researchers reported that climate models with a high “climate sensitivity” overstate the cooling effect that arises from interactions between clouds and aerosols and project that clouds will moderate greenhouse gas-induced warming much more than climate records show actually happens. Meanwhile, an international team of scientists discovered a new mechanism of cloud formation, not currently included in climate models, that could be important over the poles and affect sea ice melting.
Volvo says it intends to feature an all EV fleet by the year 2030. Six major utilities unveiled a plan to add EV fast chargers to connect major highway systems across the US. If you are thinking of buying an EV, the NYT has a guide to some of the environmental factors that should be considered. According to an analysis by Transport & Environment, fossil fuel cars waste hundreds of times more raw material than their battery electric equivalents. The goal of the Electric Highway Coalition, made up of six major electric companies in the Southeast and Midwest, is to build enough direct-current, fast-charging, EV charging stations to connect the Atlantic coast, the Midwest, and the South, as well as the Gulf Coast and Central Plains regions. In order to supply its expanding EV fleet, GM says it’s looking for a site to build a second US battery factory with joint venture partner LG Chem of Korea. Japanese industrial manufacturer Hitachi Zosen has developed a solid-state battery claimed to have one of the highest capacities in the industry.
Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods said that improving economics and government policies are creating opportunities for carbon capture and storage. He also said that Exxon Mobil would try to set a goal for not emitting more greenhouse gases than it removed from the atmosphere, though it was still difficult to say when that might happen. Chevron is partnering with Microsoft, Schlumberger, and Clean Energy Systems to build a carbon capture plant in California. FedEx is investing at least $2 billion toward sustainable energy initiatives, including EVs and carbon capture research, as part of a new pledge to become carbon neutral by 2040.
Lockdowns around the world led to an unprecedented fall in CO2 emissions of about 7% in 2020, or about 2.6 bn metric tons of CO2, whereas reductions of between 1 bn and 2 bn metric tons are needed every year for the next ten years to have a good chance of holding the global temperature rise to within 1.5°C or 2°C. Unfortunately, CO2 emissions climbed steadily over the second half of 2020, so that by December, emissions were 2% higher than in the same month in 2019. The US could cut emissions from its electricity grid in half within the next decade through investments in renewables and transmission lines. Furthermore, a national approach to transmission planning can supposedly deliver large benefits at the speed necessary to meet the challenges of climate change. Berkshire Hathaway Energy is spending billions to build transmission lines to carry electricity from remote areas where renewable energy is generated to population centers where it is needed. FERC’s chairman is focused on enabling the construction of long-distance power transmission lines to help bring more renewable power onto the grid.
Governments and energy companies are placing large bets on clean hydrogen playing a leading role in lowering greenhouse gas emissions, although its future uses and costs are highly uncertain. Shell is moving toward renewable aviation fuel production at its refinery in Rhineland, Germany, where it will conduct research using its bio-power-to-liquid plant and an upgraded hydrogen electrolysis facility. Siemens Energy announced a US Energy Department grant to study how its electrolyzers could be combined with hydrogen compression and storage, and power plant control technology, to provide long-term energy storage at renewable energy facilities. By using its tar-sands bitumen as a feedstock for carbon fiber production and by turning its natural gas into blue hydrogen via carbon capture, Alberta hopes to transform its oil and gas industry.
The CEOs of Duke Energy and Xcel Energy have said that natural gas will remain part of their power mix for years to come as they transition to cleaner forms of energy. A furious industry backlash has greeted moves by cities to ban natural gas in new homes and businesses.
Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe is joining the Nature Conservancy as its next chief scientist. The Washington Post Magazine published an interview with her. The NYT had a review of Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky. At GreenBiz, Joel Makower discussed the concept of “net-zero” and why it can be an instrument for greenwashing. A UN report revealed that people waste over a billion tons of food a year, placing food waste right behind China and the US as a contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Health News released an important series of four articles, Fractured, documenting their investigation of fracking chemicals in the air, water, and people of western Pennsylvania. Of the roughly 55,000 Indigenous households located on Navajo Nation lands, around 15,000 do not have electricity. UN human rights officials issued a report condemning environmental racism in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” where the mostly Black population breathes air heavily polluted by an ever-widening corridor of petrochemical plants.
Climate scientist Michael Mann talked with Jonathan Watts of The Guardian about his new book, The New Climate War, and why he thinks the tide may finally be turning in a hopeful direction.
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.