Top Five Energy and Climate Report Stories for the Week Ending April 4

Coal Plant (Photo Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Regulations to control carbon dioxide and methane emissions were among the top four Energy and Climate Report stories for the week ending April 4, while the fifth most read story covered a United Nations climate change report.

1. EPA Urged to Stay Within Air Act Authority in Regulating Existing Power Plant Emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency needs to stay squarely within its legal authority under Clean Air Act Section 111(d) in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, said Robert Wyman, an attorney at Latham & Watkins in Los Angeles, whose remarks are covered in this story.

“The last thing anyone wants is for this to get thrown out,’’ Wyman said March 27 of the carbon dioxide guidelines EPA is scheduled to propose in June.

Speaking at the Navigating the American Carbon World conference in San Francisco, Wyman said the language in Section 111(d) gives EPA sufficient authority to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. The statute should not, however, be used to try to redefine a source—for example, redefining a coal plant as a natural gas plant, Wyman said.

In other words, EPA should not try to use Section 111(d) as a tool to reshape the entire energy economy, he said.

2. Methane Plan Calls for EPA to Evaluate Controls It Once Deemed Unnecessary

This story details a White House plan that requires the EPA to consider ways to further reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells. The plan represents a policy reversal for the agency, which had previously argued direct regulation of the pollutant was unnecessary.

Advocates of regulating methane emissions from wells that have been hydraulically fractured say that new data have become available since the EPA issued its new source performance standards and national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants for oil and natural gas wells in 2012. The new data could lead the agency to directly regulate methane emissions, they said.

“They understand they left a good bit of emission reduction potential on the table when they issued that,” Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force, told Bloomberg BNA March 28. “The administration is looking for additional ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The White House directed the EPA to explore opportunities to further reduce methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector as part of a methane-reduction strategy released March 28. The plan requires the EPA to issue a series of white papers this year soliciting input on options for further reducing methane emissions from the oil and natural gas wells and, if deemed necessary, finalize any regulations in 2016

3. Obama Issues Plan to Cut Landfill Methane, Defers Decision on Oil, Gas Sector Emissions

A plan unveiled by the White House to cut methane emissions, including limits for new landfills and coal mines operating on public lands is detailed in this story. [The number two story above covers the plan only as it relates to oil and natural gas wells.]

The methane limits for new landfills are to be proposed this summer, but the EPA will seek more input on whether to update its requirements for existing landfills, according to the White House announcement. Rules for existing landfills haven't been updated since 1996.

Obama also is directing the Bureau of Land Management to address methane emitted from coal mines operating on federal lands. BLM is to publish in April an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, the earliest regulatory step that requests public comments prior to proposing rules.

The methane strategy also calls for moving forward on other regulatory and nonregulatory fronts, including voluntary partnerships with industries such as the dairy sector.

On the voluntary side, the EPA, the Energy Department, and the Agriculture Department in June will release a “Biogas Roadmap” in concert with the dairy industry outlining voluntary steps to encourage the industry to use methane digesters and other technologies to cut emissions from the sector by 25 percent by 2020.

4. EPA Proposal to Regulate Carbon Dioxide From Existing Plants Under OMB Review

This story covers the review by the White House Office of Management and Budget of the EPA's proposal that would set the first carbon dioxide emissions limits from existing power plants.

However, the EPA has revealed few details of what the proposed emission guidelines might entail. President Barack Obama ordered the EPA to propose the guidelines by June 1.

“They're doing a pretty good job of keeping secrets,” David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate and clean air program, told Bloomberg BNA April 1.

The emission guidelines, which states would be required to use when regulating carbon dioxide from existing power plants, are expected to follow similar new source performance standards (NSPS) the EPA proposed for new facilities in January.

The EPA's proposed NSPS, issued under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act, would limit new natural gas-fired power plants to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour with a performance standard of 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour for coal-fired units and some smaller natural gas power plants. 

5. UN Report: Climate Change Will Affect Every Society; Nations Urged to Adapt Now

Higher global temperatures already are affecting the planet in significant ways, from altering species migration to disrupting parts of the food supply, and, if unchecked, climate change could lead to major challenges for human populations, especially in poor countries, according to a report—covered in this March 31 story by a United Nations scientific panel.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, using language and warnings much stronger than in past studies, also said how societies adapt to the changing climate will be crucial in the coming years.

“Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security, and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report said.

In its final editorial meeting for the second part of the Fifth Assessment Report on impacts and vulnerabilities, held in Yokohama, Japan, the IPCC said higher global temperatures are already having a “significant” impact on the planet that include diminishing access to fresh water, the acidification of the ocean in many parts of the world, and the increased frequency of extreme weather. Unchecked, the changing climate could lead to major challenges for human populations, especially in poor countries, the IPCC warned.

For more, a Q&A with IPCC official Christopher Field on the report is available here.


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