The top Energy and Climate Report story for the week ending March 21 covered a call by the world's largest scientific society to end climate change skepticism, followed by a story on technology for detecting methane leaks. Rounding out the top five were stories on a steel plant's permit containing greenhouse gas limits, the politics of the Keystone pipeline and California's actions to reduce carbon emissions.

1. Science Association Steps Into Policy Arena, Calls for Cuts in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

This March 18 story covers the announcement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science that it's stepping more forcefully into the policy debate over climate change due to what it says is stubborn public skepticism regarding the causes and risks of climate change.

“Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which represents more than 100,000 scientists, said in a new report, “What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change.” The AAAS said about 97 percent of scientists “have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.”

Those scientists are increasingly worried that debate over whether climate change is real may be distracting the public from the “real risk, however small” of unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, from disruption of the Gulf Stream to melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

2. Infrared Cameras Can Facilitate Detection, Repair of Methane Leaks, Report Says

Methane leaks from oil and natural gas production can be easily identified using infrared cameras and are highly cost-effective to repair, the Clean Air Task Force said in a report detailed in this March 19 story.

According to the report, “Quantifying Cost-effectiveness of Systematic Leak Detection and Repair Programs Using Infrared Cameras,” more than 97 percent of identified leaks were cost-effective to repair even if natural gas prices fell as low as $3 per 1,000 cubic feet.

More than 90 percent of the leaks saw a payback period of less than one year, the report said. Quarterly leak detection surveys could abate methane emissions for less than $280 per metric ton, the report said.

The oil and natural gas sector accounts for about 30 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Almost 30 percent of methane emissions from that sector are due to leaks, the report said. Methane is 21 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

3. EPA Won't Object to Parts of Nucor Steel Permit Containing Greenhouse Gas Limits

As covered in this March 20 story, the Environmental Protection Agency is standing by Louisiana's decision to issue greenhouse gas emissions limits in the operating permit for an iron and steel mill, saying there was limited data available when the permit was issued.

The Sierra Club and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network had contested Nucor Corp.'s permit, partly because it lacked documentation as to why reducing natural gas emissions is the best way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The groups also said the permit lacked documentation as to why a natural gas emissions limit constitutes best available control technology.

Since 2011, the EPA has required new and modified industrial facilities to obtain permits for greenhouse gas emissions under the prevention of significant deterioration provisions of the Clean Air Act. The emissions must be controlled using best available control technology, which is determined individually for each facility.

The Nucor permit contains an emissions limit of 13 million British thermal units of natural gas per metric ton of direct reduced iron.

4. Anti-Keystone Views of Obama Advisers Clash With Election-Year Politics, Fight for Senate

This March 19 story covers remarks by President Barack Obama's advisers who are lining up against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Top Democratic donors oppose the project. Obama dismisses claims that it will create many jobs.

Yet there's still one big obstacle to the president saying no to Keystone—election-year politics.

If Obama rejects the pipeline, it might sink Democratic candidates in states with big energy industries, such as Louisiana and Alaska. That could cost Democrats control of the Senate—a risk that's likely to weigh heavily on any decision the president makes to approve the pipeline, reject it or wait until after November to announce a decision.

“If Obama approves the pipeline, he alienates environmentalists and the left; if he rejects it, he really hurts a number of endangered Democratic senators,” Charlie Cook, publisher of the nonpartisan "Cook Political Report," said. 

"The path of least resistance would be to continue to punt the decision until after the midterm election," he said.

5. California Paving Way for U.S. on Reducing Carbon Emissions, State Air Official Says

State actions on climate change are reducing emissions and offering templates for effective federal standards, according to Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, whose remarks are covered in this March 17 story.

“State successes are helping to lay the foundation for strong federal standards and those then reinforce the next round of state successes,” Nichols said at a March 14 conference on “Navigating Climate Regulation on Dual Tracks: The Promises and Pitfalls of AB32 and the Clean Air Act.”

Currently, Nichols said, climate regulation is on dual tracks, one state and one federal.

“I'm happy that I can say that because, for a long time, there was only one track, but thanks to President Obama's climate action plan (CAP), we are moving forward to address the global warming crisis as a country,” Nichols said.

California, she said, is on pace to achieve the 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050 called for under its greenhouse gas emissions law, A.B. 32.


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