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Ahead of the Curve 

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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What I’m thankful for: EPA’s strong resolve to press for deep carbon pollution reductions under the Clean Air Act

November 24th, 2013 by Ann Weeks, Senior Counsel and Legal Director

Over the past 43 years, the Clean Air Act has repeatedly demonstrated its extraordinary effectiveness in assuring cleaner air by promoting and securing innovations in pollution control.  You don’t have to take my word for it, you can just compare the air in any major U.S. city to that in Beijing.

These pollution control innovations have been inspired – and most importantly, secured – through the section of the Act that sets performance standards for new sources, based on the “best system of emissions control.”  As the Congress said in passing that section, and as the courts have held, EPA is meant to take action that is forward-looking, technology-forcing, and that secure meaningful advances in pollution control and cleaner air.

I’m grateful for EPA’s recognition and resolve around the potential for using this regulatory tool to get future reductions in the carbon pollution that causes climate change.
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Do CO2 Injections Pose Risk of Harmful Earthquakes?

November 6th, 2013 by Bruce Hill, Senior Geologist

How common are measurable earthquakes in association with oilfield operations? The answer is: exceedingly rare.  Nevertheless, another scientific paper has raised the possibility of seismic events occurring as a result of injection of CO2 to stimulate new oil production from depleted oil fields.  Since this process, known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR), is a vital component of making carbon capture and storage (CCS) economically viable as a means of addressing global climate change, we must take a close look at the facts.  So here’s what we know:

On November 4, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) released a paper on seismicity that may have been induced by injections of gases in a West Texas oilfield. The oilfield studied, near Snyder Texas, has been subject to injection-related production stimulation since 1957.   In the present study, authors report minor seismicity recorded between 2006 and 2011 with 18 earthquakes. Of the 18 recorded events, 17 were Richter magnitude 3 (associated with barely or unnoticeable ground shaking) and one was a magnitude 4.3 (ground shaking capable of rattling dishes but not significant harm).  To put this in perspective, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), worldwide there are an estimated 1.3 million earthquakes between magnitude of 2.0 and 2.9, 130,000 earthquakes between 3.0 and 3.9 and 13,000 earthquakes between magnitudes 4.0 and 5.0 annually. None of the seismicity halted injection; instead the operators paid extra attention to optimizing the injection rates.
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Grasping at Straws: A flimsy argument to attack upcoming EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants

November 4th, 2013 by Ann Weeks, Senior Counsel and Legal Director

Recently, a number of industry lawyers have been grasping at straws in an attempt to tell EPA it can’t regulate the most significant source of U.S. domestic greenhouse gases — emissions from existing coal-fired power plants – under the Clean Air Act.  Even last week, Sidley Austin attorney Roger Martella’s pre-filed testimony for a House Joint Environment and Energy Subcommittee hearing trotted out the argument, which asserts that EPA can’t regulate existing power plant sources of greenhouse gases –representing some 40% of U.S. manmade carbon dioxide pollution — because power plants are required under the Act to control their air toxics.  This is not only a silly argument, from a policy perspective, but, it’s wrong.  It would appear that none of the attorneys repeating it, even including former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, have done their homework.
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Peak Coal in China — or Long, High Plateau?

October 7th, 2013 by Armond Cohen, Executive Director

China coal power is one of the world’s largest single contributors to carbon dioxide emissions, which will likely need to be reduced to near-zero levels over the next few decades to manage climate change. So when two reports came out in the last few weeks that project a peak in Chinese coal consumption within the next couple of decades, many environmental and energy commentators concluded that the problem has been tamed, and that coal will be swiftly replaced by wind, solar and gas.

Unfortunately, a closer look at the findings refutes that conclusion.  After China’s coal growth stops, the installed base of coal plants will remain, and that fleet will be the largest in the world—more than three times the capacity of all the coal plants in the United States.  And unlike the US, most of China’s coal plants were built after 2000 and are young; they will operate economically for 40-60 years. New wind, nuclear, and solar plants in China will help at the margins, but the imperative need is to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) that can cut these plants’ CO2 emissions by 90%.  Otherwise, the sheer size and remaining life of China’s coal fleet will make it impossible to achieve aggressive climate management targets.
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Carbon Capture and Storage – Why It’s Essential

September 25th, 2013 by Ann Weeks, Senior Counsel and Legal Director, Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director, and John Thompson, Director, Fossil Transition Project

This posting originally appeared in the National Journal’s Energy Insider’s blog.

EPA’s move last week to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants marks the beginning of an era of widespread use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in fossil power generation.  Going forward, in the absence of any other technology allowing emissions reductions, all new coal-fired power plants must have systems to capture, transport, and store their carbon dioxide emissions at a rate of 1100 pounds of CO2 per MW-hr.  That is as it must be if the U.S. is to meet its 2050 climate goals.  At CATF, we have been working on the CCS issue for the last decade, both in the US and in China, and we welcome this key initiative from the Administration to address climate change.
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