The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released long-awaited greenhouse gas rules for new power plants this week. Using the Clean Air Act, the agency standard would set the first national limits on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions new power plants can emit. The EPA proposed the rule after delaying it several times since July 2011.
Power plants are the largest source of CO2 in the nation, accounting for approximately 40 percent of these emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration. The rule basically requires new coal plants to emit the same amount of CO2 as an average plant fueled by natural gas—causing U.S. coal shares to slip following the announcement. While some in Congress already are threatening to nullify the rule, plummeting natural gas prices had much of the same effect, driving the decline of existing coal-fired facilities and giving way to power plants fueled by natural gas.
The news was met with mixed reactions. Some were calling it the “demise of coal-fired power generation” and a “job killer,” while others viewed it as a step in the right direction to fight climate change.
Energy: At What Cost?
The New York Times describes how technological breakthroughs in natural gas and oil extraction, coupled with efficiency, are “inching” the U.S. toward energy independence—but at what environmental cost? Nearly two years after an explosion on an offshore oil platform sent millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, deepwater drilling is picking up. But a leak on an oil rig in the North Sea prompted some to think back to BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster, the world’s worst marine oil spill. Although this leak doesn’t appear to be as serious as the BP spill, some are predicting it could take six months before the problem is fixed.
Meanwhile a new survey says 63 percent of Americans think it’s possible to develop shale oil reserves without harming the environment. But it appears the controversial drilling method may undermine attempts to store carbon dioxide underground.
Energy and environment also took center stage in Santa Barbara as CEOs of industry and environmental organizations converged at the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference. Repeated throughout the conference was the idea that public policy is inadequate to the task of tackling the world’s energy challenges. Yet when pressed, Tesla Motors founder and clean tech notable Elon Musk said public policies such as a carbon tax are “ideal.”
Carbon Caps: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
In California, where the nation’s only economy-wide cap-and-trade program is moving forward, officials announced plans to postpone the program’s first allowance auction from Aug. 15 to Nov. 14. The later start date will give California more time to link its program with that of its Western Climate Initiative (WCI) partner, Quebec. WCI just appointed Anita Burke as organization’s first executive director. Forward progress will be challenging because of a lawsuit challenging the cap’s use of offsets, or reductions outside the cap. The lawsuit alleges that offsets represent reductions that would have occurred with or without public policies.
Meanwhile the U.S. airline industry dropped its unsuccessful lawsuit against Europe’s cap-and-trade program. The European Union emission trading scheme seeks to bring airlines taking off and landing in Europe under its emissions cap. Airlines would be required to purchase allowances at auction. The move comes as European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard quietly visited Washington this week to discuss transatlantic climate issues, including U.S. airlines’ opposition to the program.
In dueling opinion pieces, the Washington Post renews calls for a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, while the Wall Street Journal says models cannot pin much to climate during the past decade. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has attempted to more accurately model the future impacts of climate change.
Extreme weather—the same that may be bringing bats to Texas and causing birds to adjust their ranges—is linked to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, according to two reports. In fact, climate change is amplifying risk of storms, rising seas and floods—particularly in small island states and poor regions. Reports such as these have spurred an effort to identify trees that could thrive as climate change develops. Human-caused climate change may also further the spread of Chagas’ disease and potentially worsen autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, impairing cognitive function, according to new studies. The latter study found that warmer temperatures lower mental processing speeds and memory recall.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday for National Geographic’s News Watch by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.