For the week ending Feb. 21, Energy and Climate Report stories taking center stage included oral arguments before the Supreme Court on greenhouse gases, a study on 'superemitters' of methane, attorneys debating the Clean Air Act, Secretary of State Kerry saying it will be difficult to build coal-fired power plants in the U.S. and a billionaire taking up the cause of climate change. 

1. Supreme Court Could Clarify Authority of EPA to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

This Feb. 19 story previews oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court Feb. 24 in a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources. While the high court won't address the agency's fundamental authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, attorneys say the lawsuit could provide an opportunity for the court to issue new guidance on how much latitude federal agencies are due when interpreting statutes. Industry groups opposed to the greenhouse gas permitting programs have argued that the EPA ignored alternate interpretations of the Clean Air Act's permitting provisions that would have been less onerous. Environmental advocates have countered that the permitting programs are an important stopgap measure until the EPA can issue sector-specific regulations for greenhouse gas emissions. The permitting programs also are expected to drive the development of the control technologies necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they said.

2. Methane Leakage Exceeds EPA Estimates, Possibly Due to 'Superemitters,' Study Says

As covered in this story, a study published in the Feb. 14 edition of the journal Science found that methane leakage from natural gas lines and other sources could be 50 percent higher than current EPA data indicate. A large portion of the excess emissions are likely to be coming from a small number of “superemitters”—spots at well sites, gas processing plants, storage tanks or distribution facilities that leak high concentrations of methane. The study, “Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems,” synthesized data from methane research conducted over a 20-year period. “This seemingly relatively small leakage rate could have significant impact,” Adam Brandt, assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University and the study's lead author, said. “Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Relatively small leaks can actually have a significant impact on the overall greenhouse-gas intensity of using natural gas.”

3. Panelists Disagree on Scope of Air Act for Achieving Carbon Dioxide Reductions

A debate between environmentalists and industry representatives over whether the Clean Air Act allows existing coal-fired power plants to take credit for carbon reductions that occur outside the "fence line" to meet their emission reduction requirements is covered in this Feb. 20 story. During the debate, sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute, David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Clean Air Act provides substantial flexibility to account for emissions reductions that occur outside the boundary of a facility. Jeffrey Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell & Giuiliani LLP, who represents industry clients, agreed that the Clean Air Act is a “very broad statute.” But he said, “I just don't see how it can possibly be broad enough to accommodate the system you're talking about.” Panelists, who also included Megan Ceronsky, an Environmental Defense Fund attorney, and Scott Segal, Holmstead's colleague, also discussed how the EPA could interpret provisions in the Clean Air Act for “best system of emission reduction” and whether reductions could be counted if they were achieved through averaging or trading reductions from other fuel sources.

4. U.S. Emissions Limits Make Building New Coal-Fired Plants Difficult, Kerry Says

Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry during a trip to Asia are covered in this Feb. 18 story in which he touted President Barack Obama's efforts to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the face of continued congressional inaction, including pending EPA greenhouse gas limits that he said will make it "very difficult" to build any new coal-fired power plants. “We have much tougher standards than other countries in the rest of the world” in the works to cut such emissions with the exception of those implemented in Europe, he said. “So it is very difficult now in America to build a coal-fired power plant without meeting very, very rigorous standards,” Kerry said. During the trip, he repeatedly focused on the need for global attention to climate change, particularly in the run-up to the international climate talks in Paris in 2015, where nearly 200 nations are slated to finalize a global climate accord.

5. Billionaire Retired Investor Steyer Enlists Donors for $100 Million Climate Cause

This Feb. 18 story details plans by retired billionaire investor Tom Steyer to spend at least $50 million of his fortune to make climate change an election issue this year and efforts to entice other wealthy donors to put up another $50 million. So far, he has been alone in writing checks to his climate-themed political organization, NextGen Climate Action Committee. To change that, he gathered about 20 prospective donors and money-raisers at his California ranch earlier this month and made the $100 million pitch, two people familiar with the meeting confirmed. The money would be used to support candidates who want to address climate change in ways that Steyer backs, including opposing the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil from the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada through the U.S. © 2014 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.


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