Clean Power Plan Rollback - Serious Issue or Symbolism?

Posted by Ed Burke on May 31, 2017 10:25:38 AM

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This March, President Trump signed an executive order to potentially roll back the Clean Power Plan, as part of a broader order regarding Energy Production & Independence in the US. The order directs the EPA to review the ruling and make a determination on whether to "rescind, repeal, or revise".

The basis of the order is the idea that the regulations hinder US energy production and have a job limiting effect. The administration has posited that the Clean Power Plan is an overstep by governmental regulating bodies, particularly the EPA, and is a part of the "War on Coal" that they promised to stop during the campaign season. 

The order does not detail what replacement protocol would be in place, or what impact the change or repeal of the Clean Power Plan would have on the Paris accords, the global agreement that essentially rests on the CPP being in effect in the United States (Refresher on that here: Senate Strikes Down Clean Power Provisions Ahead of Climate Change Summit

The Clean Power Plan, as put forth by the Obama Administration, would require States to limit carbon emissions from power plants by 32% of 2005 levels over 25 years. Initially, the 2014 drafts indicated much of the reduction would be achieved by a switch to natural gas (from coal and other carbon intensive sources) but the finalized 2015 version indicated most of the reduction would be achieved by moving to solar, wind, etc. (For details and a refresher on the power plant portion of the Clean Power Plan and the industry criticisms of it, particularly the renewable versus nat gas portions, you can read this article: "Obama, EPA announce First Ever Federal Regulations on Power Plant Emissions")

An interesting wrinkle to the entire debate raging over the CPP & the new Executive Order is that the Clean Power Plan is actually not currently in effect, officially anyways. The Plan is held up while pending lawsuits in many states, who have refused to comply with the plan details until the litigation is settled. 

However, be that as it may, many States are addressing carbon regulation concerns themselves, joining states like California and basically the entire Northeast Region in handling in-house (For example, this article in Fast Company regarding the steps being taken by Virginia's governor, among others:"Obama's Clean Power Plan might be dead in DC, but States are rebuilding it themselves" 

In addition to States handling much of the issues in contention themselves, according to the State of Electric Utility Survey for 2017, when the folks who handle energy mixes for power plants were asked what the future of their energy production looked like, less than 4% of respondents indicated they anticipated adding more coal to their energy mix, with 52% predicting their coal usage would plummet. 

So, how much of the executive order is merely symbolic? If many states and power generation companies are addressing the issue of coal and/or emissions themselves, its quite possible that even should the EPA greatly roll back the CPP, it may not be the "sky is falling" situation that many believe it would be. 

I wrote an article about the current state of the Clean Power Plan, and what's happening in light of (and despite) the President's directive. You can read that article in Oil & Energy online here: The Clean Power Plan: Repeal or Replace?

What do you think the future holds for the Clean Power Plan?

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Topics: EPA, clean power plan

Renewables in 2015 & 2016

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 11, 2016 1:30:00 PM

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2015 was a banner year for Renewables. The EPA finally finalized RFS volumes for 2014-2016 in November. In December, Congress passed the tax extenders package which included both the $1 per gallon biodiesel blender credit and cellulosic blending credit of $1.01 per gallon, retroactively.

We also saw the Paris Climate Change Summit in November (Here's a quick recap of where we were then in terms of Climate Change regulations). The Summit saw 190 countries agree to Climate Change resolutions and almost univerally agreeing that each country would lower its carbon emissions.

2015 saw increases in renewable fuels use essentially across the board, and 2016 projections are optimistic on growth. I wrote an article for Oil & Energy's March issue that goes into depth on current levels, projections, and how the renewables mix looks like it will shake out through 2016. You can read that article here: Oil & Energy: "Renewables are Changing the Energy Mix"

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Topics: Biodiesel, EPA, renewable energy

Senate Strikes Down Clean Power Provisions Ahead Climate Change Summit

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 18, 2015 4:24:41 PM

Image of the U.S. Capital Building

Yesterday, the Senate voted to block President Obama’s Clean Power Plan with respect to the new EPA regulations on Power Plant Emissions announced in August, as well as blocking the moratorium on new Coal Fired Plant building. (For a refresher on those regulations, read this “Obama, EPA Announce First-Ever Federal Limits on Power Plant Emissions” )

The Senate challenged the regulations under the somewhat obscure Congressional Review Act which allows the legislature to vote to block enactment of new federal regulations as long as they do so within 60 days of publication. It was a fairly clever move, given the rules came out in August, but because technically they were not published until October, they were fair game.

The rationale behind using the Congressional Review Act cited was that nearly half of the States are suing the EPA over these specific parts of the Clean Power Plan, and several are vowing to refuse to comply pending said lawsuits.

The Review Act also is not subject to filibuster and only requires a simple majority, not 60 votes – so the final count of 52-46 (on both the emissions regulation vote, and the moratorium vote) was sufficient to block the regulations. That is, until it hits the President’s desk, where it will immediately be vetoed. It’s extremely unlikely that a veto could be overridden, so essentially this legislation will drop off in the same fashion the Keystone Bill did earlier this year.

The Power Plant portion of the multiple Climate Change resolutions proposed by the Administration is essentially the centerpiece to the overall plan. The timing of the vote is not advantageous for the Administration because, as we’ve mentioned, the Climate Change Summit is to be held in France a few days from now.

 Essentially, the regulations are critical for the U.S. if a broad Climate Change agreement is to be secured at the conference, which is really the entire point of it – to broker a global agreement.  Without being able to cite massive overhauls and regulation of emissions on a broad scale, the U.S. has much less of an ability to point to what we are doing as a model for a global pact.  

 

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Topics: EPA, obama, clean power plan, climate change summit

Ahead of the Climate Change Summit, Here's Where We Are on Regulations

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 16, 2015 2:39:21 PM

Image of Climate Change in a dictionary

Despite the horrific ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris this past weekend and the fact that France will still officially be in a State of Emergency, as declared by French President Hollande, the Global Climate Change Council Meeting is still slated to take place in Paris on November 20th

 Some are arguing that at the very least the venue ought to change, others that it should be postponed, and still others that the best thing we can do in response to terrorist attacks is carry on with scheduled events versus cancelling  in fear.

 Regardless of anyone’s position, at the moment, the Council meeting is a go.

 We’re likely to hear new proposals from both the US, and several European countries on comprehensive changes. So before new policies or talking points are rolled out, it’s a good time to recap the steps the United States has taken policy wise to combat Climate Change over the past year through EPA proposals and regulations.

 I wrote a “roundup” of major EPA rulings and proposals from 2015 aimed at combatting Climate Change and how they may impact the industry for Fuel Marketers News Magazine recently - You can read the article in PDF format here: 

"Climate Change: Regulations Roundup"

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Topics: EPA, climate change, climate change summit

Accidents Happen - EPA Spill Highlights Difficulty of Mine Decontamination

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 12, 2015 1:31:32 PM

Person sitting next to a river with a river warning sign in the frame

(Photo: Alexa Rogals, The (Farmington, N.M.) Daily Times)

Earlier this week, while an EPA team worked to stem a leak from the Gold Medal mine in Colorado, an abandoned mine not operational since the 1920s, a pressure fluctuation caused hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated water to spill into the Animas River. This river feeds into the Colorado River – a main water supply source for the West.

All eyes are on the river now, but the Federal government has been working to cleanup and stop mine runoff for decades. An estimated 40% of waterways in the region have some level of heavy metals contamination from such runoff. In fact, the ruptured mine was being worked on in the first place because testing by the EPA showed that contamination levels were rising to a level that impacted aquatic life.

It turns out that there are an estimated 20,000 abandoned mines in Colorado and up to 500,000 throughout the West. Surprisingly, until late into the 20th century (1970) there weren’t many regulations on mining – meaning essentially anyone could start mining anywhere. As a result, when there were mining booms throughout the West, once a mine either didn’t yield or was exhausted, it was simply left there. As time goes on, water builds up within the mines and leaks into waterways and the surrounding environment, carrying with it, heavy-metal contaminants that could be dangerous in high concentrations.

One of the issues that has made mine cleanup such a slow process is that under the Clean Water Act, you’re legally and financially liable for spills even if it happened inadvertently in a cleanup effort, so stemming the pollution from the mines and handling the arduous process of decontamination has fallen solely on the EPA, and there are simply too many mines to fully decontaminate them all quickly.

It’s also an issue of cost – fully neutralizing the mine involves treating the trapped water to safe levels then releasing it, repeatedly, to the tune of about a million dollars a pop, essentially forever.

A “Good Samaritan” provision has been repeatedly proposed as an addition to the Clean Water Act, so other environmental groups can begin working on mine decontamination as well. Ironically, it sounded like a better idea before the spill than after. It’s hard to imagine an immediate pond containment system to control damages going in as quickly as the EPA was able to do. 

The release has certainly put the EPA and their cleanup response in the spotlight.

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Topics: EPA, emergency response

Obama, EPA Announce First-Ever Federal Limits on Power Plant Emissions

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 6, 2015 2:16:38 PM

Climate change definition in a dictionary

 

On Monday (August 3rd), President Obama unveiled his latest initiative to combat Climate Change, in the form of new proposed regulations on power plant emissions. The plan would reduce emissions from power plants to 32% below the 2005 benchmark levels by 2030 (by 870 megatons). This is the first time federal limits on this type of emissions would be enacted, and the EPA’s Clean Air Act is cited by the administration as allowing for said federal limits.

From the EPA press release on the new regulations:

“By 2030, the plan will cut carbon pollution from the power sector by nearly a third and additional reductions will come from pollutants that can create dangerous soot and smog, translating to significant health benefits for the American people. By 2030, emissions of sulfur dioxide from power plants will be 90 percent lower and emissions of nitrogen oxides will be 72 percent lower, compared to 2005 levels”

(You can read the full EPA Press Release here: EPA Newsroom )

The estimated cost of the program is $8.4 billion annually, according to an EPA spokesperson, and the benefits are projected to be between $34 and $54 billion per year, including health benefits.

Under the rule, individual states must draft and adopt compliance plans by 2018 and meet initial projected targets by 2022.

Industry groups and officials are obviously not thrilled with the new rule, citing potential billions in infrastructure costs associated with moving away from coal power generation. Additionally, the plan includes a target of the US generating 28% of its power via “renewable” sources versus the current 13% level – this does not include natural gas, and further complicates how exactly states and utilities can make changes to hit these targets.

The earlier draft in 2014 included more assumptions that the move would be from coal to natural gas (which generates around a 50% reduction in carbon emissions), this ruling in that regard is even more cumbersome, with the additional costs and difficulty of going from coal to wind, solar, or nuclear – when it's already expensive to go from coal to natural gas.

Critics are citing this as another example of the “War on Coal” and Legislators from coal heavy states cite job and revenue hits they believe the new rule will cause. Some Attorneys General have already signaled they are filing suit, arguing the rules go far beyond the Clean Air Acts provisions, and some states have declared they will refuse to follow the guidelines.  Of note however, is that recently the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the EPA re: the Clean Air Act and methane regulations, and it may very well do so again on this case.

We shall see - stay tuned!

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Topics: natural gas, President Obama Address, EPA, carbon emissions, clean air act, power plant emissions, coal

How Will the EPA Address the RFS for 2014 & 2015?

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 21, 2015 10:43:17 AM

Chalkboard image with the focus on Biofuel

In November the EPA announed it would not be able to finalize on the RFS volumes for biofuels until 2015. The 2014 and 2015 volumes will be set soon,, in theory. But there has been a lot of stress out there in the industry over the fact that the delay will essentially mean refiners and producers need to be retroactively compliant with the volumes the EPA sets.

The biofuels industry is pushing for an increase in biofuel requirements, to 18.15 billion gallons. This is probably not happening, but the uncertainty overall has had a serious impact on bio producers, many of whom have scaled operations way back over 2014 as compared to 2013.

On the other hand most refiners argue that the EPA should lower the standard by 16% given the drop in demand year on year since the RFS' inception in 2007. Additionally the cellulosic ethanol standard should be scrapped, its argued, since its not available for use and its therefore impossible to comply with that portion of the mandate.  

The implication the EPA gave was that it was looking at reducing volumes, and would almost certainly not be increasing the ethanol mandate over the 10% current level - ie that it wouldnt break the so called "blend wall". We will have to see how it plays out over the next month or so. 

I wrote a more in depth piece on the RFS for January's Oil & Energy Magazine, if you want to dive into the topic a little deeper, you can read that article here: "Rethinking the Renewable Fuel Standard"

 

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Topics: Biodiesel, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, EPA

Midterms 2014: What Will the Energy Agenda Look Like Now?

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 6, 2014 8:00:00 AM

United States House of Representatives

How will the 2014 Midterm Election results cause a shift in the Energy Agenda?

Keystone XL:

Prior to the midterm elections, Congress sent numerous bills to the Senate to push approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, none of which were brought to the Senate floor. That all likely changes with a Republican Majority Leader. Most likely we will see a vote happen on Keystone, and with Republicans controlling the Senate there are solidly enough votes to pass. Whether the President will sign it or not is up for debate, but in late October during a visit to Canada, Secretary of State John Kerry said he would like to "see a decision, sooner rather than later", maybe signaling that the President won't veto the bill once it hits his desk. 

Crude Exports

Less of a change expected here with the party shift. Exports were expected to be a big consideration in 2015 regardless of party control. Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mary Landreiu were both expected to move the issue forward. As of this morning Landreiu is locked in a runoff contest, but Murkowski will be stepping up as Chair of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Comittee next year, and has vowed to push the issue on LNG and Crude exports. 

Other Issues

Other issues that may come to the fore include addressing the EPA's proposed regulations on pollution generated from coal fired plants. This is probably too late to be relevant in the New England region, where we are seeing skyrocketing electricity costs and Natural Gas supply issues as a result of retiring older plants. 

It will be interesting to see if other items come to the floor as the legislative session advances. Perhaps RFS issues, blendwall issues, or indications of a reversal of the prohibition of fracking on Federal Land. We shall see.

 

 

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Topics: US Crude Exports, EPA, Keystone XL, carbon emissions, Election Results

Methane & Consumers Giving Nat Gas Headaches

Posted by Ed Burke on May 20, 2014 12:32:56 PM

methane scientific element

 We talked before about the White House's proposed new regulations on Methane emissions, which came on the heels of the Administration supporting increased natural gas exports in response to the Russia/Ukraine debacle. Well the EPA whitepapers have come out now outlining proposed changes on each of the industries involved - you can check those out here: EPA Methane Whitepapers 

The Admin proposed changes cite the Agricultural sector as the largest methane producer, followed by Nat Gas. The difference however, is changes proposed for Agriculture are "voluntary" versus regulatory changes for the Nat Gas sector. As usual, environmental groups cheered and said too little too late, while the industry said given it's in their financial best interest to control leakage (their main source of environmental methane), new regulations are an uneccessary burden. 

As we said before, it's hard not to infer from the timing that increasing regulations on methane is at least in part due to environmental and consumer backlash on exports over environmental and supply/pricing concerns. However, given that exporting should increase revenue greatly for the industry it's a pretty savvy time to introduce regulations that may be costly. 

On the consumer side, news has been breaking recently on the number of gas leaks in communities. In the wake of several explosions,  there has been some digging into just how big a problem neighborhood leaks may be, and the news is not good. Some estimates (including a Boston University Study) peg the number of neighborhood leaks in the City of Boston alone at over 3400, and over 20,000 statewide. (You can read the Boston Globe article on the BU Study here: "Boston Riddled with Mostly Small Natural Gas Leaks" )

The issue with these leaks goes beyond the obvious safety and environmental concerns as well. Gas that escapes en route to the consumer is paid for by the consumer. Its estimated that Massachusetts ratepayers are paying an average of $39 million dollars a year for leaked gas ($640 million-1.5 Billion from 2000-2011 according to a study by Senator Ed Markey's Office)

I wrote a piece on methane regulations and the prevalence of natural gas leaks, and what is being (or should be) done about them for the May issue of Oil & Energy Magazine. You can read the full piece here: Natural Gas Needs to Clean Up Its Act

 

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Topics: natural gas, EPA, methane, gas leaks

Is Ethanol Even Green?

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 21, 2014 2:08:00 PM

Grassy Hillsides plowed into crop rows. Millions of acres of conservation land converted to corn fields. Fertilizer runoff polluting lakes and streams. All to produce a "green" fuel source.... Or that's the picture painted by an AP article slash expose anyway. 

The ethanol industry renounced the AP article as a "smear campaign" pointing out that fertilizer runoff and associated issues occur regardless of the end point of the corn produced. Another issue with the AP article is that the "conservation" land converted to corn fields wasn't exactly "conservation land" in the usual sense - essentially, much of it was designated conservation under an initiative that seemingly has less to do with conserving land than it does with boosting crop prices for farmers. While those points may be true, there is no doubt that corn based ethanol has environmental impacts, and there's even question on how much benefit to the environment the fuel itself produces, with the revelation that ethanol may be only about 16% "greener" than gasoline, which would technically disqualify it as a green alternative to gas.

The Senate has even introduced a bill to eliminate the ethanol portion of the RFS. This happened in December, just as the EPA announced it would reduce the ethanol blending goals in the standard. Not a good month for the Ethanol Industry, I would say. Senators Feinstein and Coburn - another unlikely alliance, cosponsored the bill. Both cited increased food costs as a result of diversion of corn into fuel supply, and the issues oil companies face with the blend wall - their inability to blend more ethanol into fuel without risking damage to consumer vehicles (that was the issue behind the EPAs reduction as well). [You can read a little more detail about the bill in my most recent Oil & Energy Article by clicking here]

So what does this all mean anyways? Its not likely ethanol will "go away" but both of these actions make it a little less burdensome on refiners and companies and protect the blend wall. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out over 2014 - the Obama administration strongly supports the corn based ethanol on the basis that it encourages biofuel adaptation in general and ethanol is a good starting point. There is no doubt that the mandate for corn based ethanol is extremely costly however, and with the undeniable impacts on food prices for both the industry and consumers, given the recent questions on the reality of its environmental impact, it seems to be time for politicians to really sit down and repair broken and costly regulations.  

 

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Topics: E85, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, RINs, Biofuels, EPA, Blend Wall

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