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Ahead of the Curve 

Clean Up All Local Gas Distribution Leaks (Not Just Underground!)

August 7th, 2014 by David McCabe, Atmospheric Scientist

The US Department of Energy and EPA’s Inspector General have called attention in the past two weeks to an important issue – harmful methane emissions from the systems that distribute natural gas in cities and towns. There’s been some effort to clean up methane from natural gas systems in recent years. For example, EPA’s 2012 rules covering hydraulically fractured gas wells and some new equipment will reduce methane from some specific sources as a “co-benefit” (the rules target other pollutants in gas, not methane). Some states, including Colorado, have also issued important rules. However, these rules have focused on production of oil and gas (EPA’s rules have a few measures that regulate pollutants from gas processing plants, too). Unfortunately, EPA and the states have neglected cleanup of local gas distribution systems, as the IG’s report makes clear. This is an important issue, and both DOE and the EPA IG have proposed useful, and important, ideas to speed up replacement of leaky, unreliable, outdated, and sometimes hazardous distribution pipelines made of cast iron or unprotected steel.
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CCS 101 on Capitol Hill

July 18th, 2014 by Kurt Waltzer, Special Projects Director and Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration (CCUS) Coordinator

This posting originally appeared in the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (GCCSI) ‘Insights‘ blog.

I was recently on a panel at a Capitol Hill briefing held by the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute about the status of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the need for financial incentives. Held this May in Washington DC, the audience included staff from Congressional offices, the media, and other interested stakeholders from industry and NGOs. CCS is one of those technologies for which people have strong, and sometimes not very well informed opinions. Some environmental advocates have depicted CCS as being simply a fig leaf for the coal industry, while some in industry have claimed it’s a science experiment that we need to conduct for the next several decades before we can use it to regulate carbon emissions.
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Flaring in Focus: A Close Look at Natural Gas Flaring in North Dakota

June 26th, 2014 by Lesley Fleischman, Technical Analyst, and Jonathan Banks, Senior Climate Policy Advisor

A considerable amount of attention has recently been directed at the high rate of flaring in US oil and gas fields, specifically the Bakken formation in North Dakota. Local residents, state government, and Federal officials have voiced concerns over the volume of flaring, as recent data (from 2013) shows that industry flared 32% of all gas produced in the Bakken.
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EPA’s proposed rule for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants is a good opening bid

June 7th, 2014 by Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director

Nearly a year ago, the Obama Administration released the President’s Climate Action Plan reaffirming the U.S. commitment to reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050. This week, EPA proposed the second pillar in that plan, a carbon pollution rule for existing fossil power plants (the so called ESPS) following the proposed rule for new fossil plants proposed last fall. When finalized and sustained from legal and political attacks, these regulations will begin to put the U.S. on a path towards the low-carbon energy system necessary to meet the nation’s mid-century goal.  Together, the rules can provide a spur to innovation, commercialization, and wide-scale deployment of cleaner energy technologies by sending a market signal that uncontrolled carbon pollution from the power system is no longer acceptable.
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EPA’s Clean Power Plan reduces climate pollution – despite leaks from natural gas

June 5th, 2014 by David McCabe, Atmospheric Scientist

Clean Air Task Force is strongly supportive of EPA’s new proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. We have also been pushing EPA hard to clean up the air emissions – including methane, a powerful greenhouse gas – from drilling, producing, processing, transporting, and distributing natural gas. And, we have noted many times that emissions are alarmingly high from a number of oil and gas production areas and that EPA’s figures for the amount of methane emitted by oil and gas systems are certainly too low.

EPA predicts that their new proposal for CO2 from power plants will, in part, shift generation from coal-fired power plants to gas-fired power plants. Under the newly proposed policy, power plant gas consumption would be higher in the next decade than expected in the absence of a new policy. If power plants use more gas, more gas will be produced – meaning that natural gas systems will emit more methane.
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Regulation Is Needed: Making “Best” Practices Standard Practice

April 15th, 2014 by Jonathan Banks, Senior Climate Policy Advisor

The recent release of the Administration’s comprehensive strategy for reducing methane emissions raises the question of how best to reduce methane emissions, especially from the oil and gas sector.  Can voluntary programs really lead to the methane reductions we need, or are mandatory regulatory programs necessary?  While voluntary programs can identify important technologies and practices to reduce emissions, without direct federal regulation of methane from the largest sources in the oil and gas industry we won’t see the reductions we need to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, protect public health, and improve public safety.

As part of the Administration’s strategy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today (April 15) set a course for possible regulations by issuing a series of white papers investigating five key sources of methane in the oil and gas sector for peer-review and comment.  We will be engaging with the Agency to ensure that they have considered all the relevant information on these sources and the available means to clean them up.  This fall, EPA will determine whether regulation of oil and gas methane emissions, from all, some (or none) of these sources, is warranted.  The regulations would be finalized by 2016.
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Interagency Methane Strategy Sets the Stage for Deep Reductions of Harmful Emissions

March 28th, 2014 by Jonathan Banks, Senior Climate Policy Advisor

Today marks the culmination of a key element of the United States’ efforts to reduce global warming pollution, with the release of the Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions by the White House as part of the Administration’s Climate Action Plan.  The recommendations chart a course for how the Federal government can take action now, to reduce this harmful pollution economically and efficiently.

On June 25, 2013, President Obama set out an ambitious strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the United States.  In order to meet the US’s pledge of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, the President directed a number of agencies to move forward on considering regulations and policies to address GHG emissions and to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
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Regulation Works: How science, advocacy and good regulations combined to force a massive reduction in power plant pollution and public health impacts

February 20th, 2014 by Jonathan Banks, Senior Climate Policy Advisor

In 1996, Clean Air Task Force was founded to launch an effort to clean up emissions from coal-fired power plants.  Our primary goal was to massively slash their emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2).  So CATF’s first step was to document the impacts of power plant pollution through a series of studies looking at impacts ranging from mercury deposition, ozone smog, global warming and fine particle pollution.

In our inaugural study issued in 2000, we looked at fine particle pollution from power plants and its health impacts around the country.  We used EPA’s own methodologies, and recruited its own consultants, to calculate the impact that fine particle pollution from power plants was having on America’s health.  The results were astounding, and the impact of the report itself was too.  The goal of cleaning up coal-fired power plants dramatically entered the political scene, both in Congress and in the Presidential race, where both Al Gore and George W. Bush embraced the notion of reducing all four pollutants.
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Study shows EPA underestimates methane emissions from natural gas production and demonstrates need for tough national standards

February 17th, 2014 by David McCabe, Atmospheric Scientist

A recently published article (Brandt et al.) assessed methane leakage rates from the natural gas sector and concluded that “official inventories consistently underestimate actual CH4 emissions, with the [natural gas] and oil sectors as important contributors…” The report stacks up 20 years of research—with different scales and seemingly different findings—along a common baseline. It compares bottom-up leakage surveys to top-down atmospheric studies, and it compares both types of analyses to official emission factors published by the EPA. It concludes that there is a significant emissions gap, meaning that CH4 emissions reported by the EPA are too low by 25 – 75%.
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Renewables, Coal and China in 2013: Headlines Versus Bottom Lines

January 17th, 2014 by Armond Cohen, Executive Director

The new year brought some deserved celebration of the advance of renewable energy in China, as the government announced nearly 8 Gigawatts of wind power additions and 3.6 Gigawatts of new solar installed during 2013.  But as I’ve previously pointed out, it is important to keep this laudable progress in perspective compared to the still staggeringly large annual increase in new China coal power capacity.

Not everyone did so. In a January 4 article entitled “China Roars Ahead with Renewables,”  for example, The Ecologist magazine claimed: “Reports of China opening a huge new coal fired power station every week belie the reality – China is the new global powerhouse for renewable energy…It means that the growth of its electric power system – that underpins the entire modernisation and industrialisation of the country – is now being powered more by renewables than by fossil fuels.” The report concluded, “These results reveal just how strongly China is swinging behind renewables as its primary energy resource. . . .”
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