Compliance by power plants with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon dioxide emissions standards was the subject of the top and fourth-most-read Energy and Climate Report stories for the week ending March 6. Other top stories covered a congressional climate research funding probe, a U.S. Geological Survey study on fracking and the release of the latest U.S. greenhouse gas emissions inventory.
1. McConnell Urges States Not to Comply With EPA Carbon Standards for Power Plants
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—whose remarks are covered in this story—urged states March 3 to forgo complying with the EPA's Clean Power Plan that targets carbon dioxide from power plants.
States should “hold back” plans for complying with the rule, which would set limits for existing power plants, to allow litigation over its legality to proceed and to allow Congress more time to act, McConnell wrote in an op-ed piece in Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader.
“Think twice before submitting a state plan—which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits—when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won't be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism,” McConnell wrote. “Refusing to go along at this time with such an extreme proposed regulation would give the courts time to figure out if it is even legal, and it would give Congress more time to fight back.”
2. Probe of Climate Research Funding Threatens Academic Freedom, Republican Senators Say
As covered in this story, all 11 Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee warned that an investigation into climate change research funding launched by three Senate Democrats is a “wholly inappropriate effort” to challenge academic freedom.
Democratic Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) sent more than 100 letters to a wide range of publicly traded companies, industry groups, utilities and others in hopes of learning whether they have funded the research of a small number of scientists who don't believe human activity significantly contributes to climate change.
“Rather than empower scientists and researchers to expand the public discourse on climate science and other environmental topics, the [Democrats'] letter could be viewed as an attempt to silence legitimate intellectual and scientific inquiry,” the EPW Republicans wrote in their letter.
3. More Data Needed to Assess Effects of Fracking on Water Quality, USGS Finds
More data are needed to assess potential risks to water quality associated with hydraulic fracturing, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study, which is detailed in this story.
Additional data in electronic formats on water acquisition, usage, treatment and disposal or recycling associated with unconventional oil and gas well development and completion are needed, the USGS said.
The study found no widespread and consistent trends in water quality, such as chloride and specific conductance, in areas where oil and gas wells are present, it said.
4. Clean Power Plan Already Affecting Coal Industry, Murray Energy Tells Court
As covered in this story, Murray Energy Corp. told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that demand for coal already is falling due to uncertainty about how coal-fired power plants will comply with EPA’s proposed carbon dioxide standards.
“The mere pendency of the proposed rule causes immediate harm because coal producers and utility customers must make—and are making—current business decisions now.” Murray Energy told the court in a reply brief.
The coal company is asking the D.C. Circuit to use its authority under the All Writs Act to take the unusual step of deciding whether the EPA has the legal authority to propose carbon dioxide emissions standards for existing power plants even before the rule is finalized. Murray Energy argued that waiting until the rule is finalized will cause the company significant economic harm that could not be remedied at a later date.
5. U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Up Slightly in 2013 but Continue Decrease From 2007
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.84 percent between 2012 and 2013, driven by lower temperatures and a decreased use of natural gas to generate electricity, the EPA said in its annual emissions inventory, which is detailed in this story.
The U.S. emitted the equivalent of 6,742.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gases in 2013, according to the EPA's Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2013. Despite the slight increase, emissions in 2013 were the second-lowest since U.S. emissions peaked at 7,450 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent in 2007.
Carbon dioxide accounted for 82.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, followed by methane with 9.7 percent of emissions. Overall, greenhouse gas emissions have increased 7 percent between 1990 and 2013, with carbon dioxide emissions increasing 8.4 percent during that period and methane emissions decreasing by 11.7 percent.
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