Court actions involving the Environmental Protection Agency made up the top two Energy and Climate Report stories for the week ending March 28. Other top stories covered a reported 2 degree temperature increase in Colorado, industry claims refuting purported costs of power plant rules and a study on the EPA's ethanol mandate.  

1. EPA Begins to Address Biomass Emissions in Permits Following Court Decision

As covered in this March 26 story, the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board partially remanded an air pollution permit for a waste-to-energy facility in Puerto Rico after it failed to account for greenhouse gas emissions from biomass.

The Energy Answers Arecibo LLC permit is one of the first to address emissions from biomass in the wake of a 2013 federal appeals court decision vacating an EPA rule that exempted biogenic greenhouse gases from the Clean Air Act's prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) and Title V permitting requirements, attorneys and forestry representatives said (Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. EPA).

The EPA has yet to respond to the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and forestry advocates said that is increasing uncertainty in an industry now subject to the permitting requirements.

“Our members continue to watch and hope,” David Tenny, president of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, told Bloomberg BNA March 26. “Until we get a clear signal from EPA on where things stand, we're going to continue to be in this state of waiting, watching and hoping.” 

2. EPA Due Deference When Deciding Climate Change Priorities, Judges Say

Federal appellate judges pressed an environmental group, as detailed in this March 25 story, to explain why the EPA is not due deference to set its own priorities as it begins regulation of greenhouse gases (WildEarth Guardians v. EPA).

Judge Harry Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit warned an attorney for WildEarth Guardians during oral arguments that the court is “highly, highly, highly” deferential to how the EPA chooses to allocate its resources as it addresses air pollution.

“You've got a really tough standard of review here,” Edwards told WildEarth Guardians attorney Samantha Ruscavage-Barz.

The environmental group sued the EPA after it rejected a 2010 petition to undertake the endangerment finding process to list coal mines as a source to be regulated under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act due to emissions of methane and other pollutants. The EPA declined the petition because that would pull resources away from more pressing priorities such as regulating carbon dioxide from power plants, it said. 

3. Temperature Up 2 Degrees in Colorado in Past 30 Years, Climate Report Says

Temperatures in Colorado have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 30 years, according to an updated report, covered in this March 21 story, that examines the impact of climate change on the state's water resources.

The amount of warming is “broadly consistent” with climate model runs in which anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of recent warming, the report, “Climate Change in Colorado,” said. It was released March 12 by the state and the University of Colorado's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

The projected changes in climate translate into potential impacts on water supplies, the amount and timing of water demand and aspects of water use. Some of these effects, such as an earlier spring runoff, are already happening, the report said.

The report didn't attribute recent variability in annual precipitation in Colorado to anthropogenic changes but rather to past natural variability in the state's climate. 

4. Industry Says NRDC Report Underestimates Losses, Costs Power Plant Rule Would Bring 

An environmental group's plan to curb carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants could cause significant increases in retail energy prices and cause substantial job losses, an industry group said in a report that is covered in this March 24 story.

A Natural Resources Defense Council proposal to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants greatly underestimates the job losses and price increases to consumers that would result, according to the report, “A Carbon Dioxide Standard for Existing Power Plants: Impacts of the NRDC Proposal” prepared by National Economic Research Associates on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

The report critiques a 2012 proposal from the NRDC that proposes state-specific emissions rates for existing power plants based on each state's unique mix of electricity generation, which would allow state regulators to develop the emissions reduction plan that best suits their individual needs, NRDC said.

The coal industry groups projected NRDC's proposal could cost electricity consumers between $13 billion and $17 billion annually as electricity and natural gas prices increase.

While the NRDC had not projected any increase in natural gas prices as a result of the EPA regulating carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, the NERA report projected consumers would pay an additional $54 billion for natural gas between 2018 and 2033 as demand is projected to increase.

5. EPA's Plan to Roll Back Ethanol Mandate Will Raise U.S. Carbon Emissions, Study Says

The EPA's plan to roll back its renewable fuel mandate for 2014 could boost U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide through 2022, according to a study released March 26 that is covered in this story.

The study, authored by researchers with the Biotechnology Industry Organization—which supports more ambitious renewable fuel mandates—concluded that the EPA's rollback, if not reversed, could translate into “foregone emissions” of 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2022.

The study, “Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Proposed Changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard Through 2022,” appears in the April edition of the journal Industrial Technology.

It concluded that the EPA's approach “will increase use of petroleum fuels” in the years ahead, which have a higher carbon content than ethanol or other renewable fuels.


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