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Weekly Roundup 10-13-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending Oct. 13, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

Policy and Politics

On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed the notice starting the process of scrapping the Clean Power Plan, arguing that it exceeds the agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act.  In contrast, on Thursday the UK released its “Clean Growth Strategy”, setting out how it hopes to meet the nation’s legally binding climate goals.  In a portent of things to come, EPA’s decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan was based on an analysis that greatly reduced the “social cost of carbon” by limiting the benefits of combating climate change to the U.S. alone and sharply increasing the discount rate used to calculate the “opportunity cost” of fighting climate change.  

An unusual coalition of business and environmental groups opposes DOE’s plan to boost nuclear and coal power plants, and are pressuring the Trump administration to scrap it.  An energy policy think tank also opposes itFrontline has released a documentary entitled War on the EPA, which details the Trump administration's effort to cater to the fossil fuel industry's demands and roll back environmental regulations.  In spite of the actions of the Trump administration, the states of the U.S. Climate Alliance are moving forward with plans and actions to reduce their carbon emissions.  And, the recent ten-year extension of California’s cap and trade program gives it important stability.

President Trump has nominated Barry Meyers, the CEO of AccuWeather, to serve as the Commerce Department’s undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere, which oversees NOAA.  Mr. Myers has served as CEO of AccuWeather since 2007, but is not a scientist.  Trump also has nominated Kathleen Hartnett-White, a former chairperson of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which plays a central role in the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Climate

A commentary paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters argues that the temperature limits in the Paris Agreement should be understood as changes in long-term global averages attributed to human activity, which exclude natural variability.  Two of the three authors of the paper had a guest post at Climate Brief to further explain the implications of their paper.  Many scientists believe that it will be impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C, or even 2°C, without removing CO2 from the atmosphere, which is one type of geoengineering.  While CO2 removal is not controversial, other forms of geoengineering are, so a conference was held this week in Berlin to discuss what the emerging field of geoengineering might mean for the planet.  Daisy Dunne of Carbon Brief attended and summarized the proceedings.

A new paper in Geophysical Research Letters reported that the Dotson ice shelf, which receives ice from the Kohler and Smith glaciers in Antarctica, is not melting uniformly on its underside, which may speed up its disintegration.  Be sure to watch the short video.

The impacts of climate change take many forms.  Melting ice and permafrost in the Arctic are causing all sorts of problems for coastal villages, requiring expensive actions to protect or relocate them.  Further south, in Japan, the increasing frequency of intense rainstorms has officials concerned that the huge system they have built to protect Tokyo from flooding may not be enough to contain future deluges.

The destructive and deadly wildfires in California are being driven by the Diablo winds, which normally occur this time of year and are a result of the unique geography of California, Nevada, and Utah.  While the impacts of climate change on the winds are uncertain, it is likely that the prolonged drought, followed by a wet winter and a hot dry summer, has contributed to the devastation.  This has caused some to conclude that wildfires will only get worse.  Relatedly, more than half of Americans are linking extreme weather and climate change (either mostly or in part).

Energy

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to eliminate the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit, both of which greatly benefit wind and solar energy.  David Roberts, writing at Vox, has done a deep dive into the federal subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives in the U.S.  The findings might surprise you.  On a global scale, according to a report from Oil Change International, funding for fossil fuel projects from the six main international development banks totaled at least $5bn in 2016.  A second report, from analysts at E3G, found that some funding agencies have given similar levels of funding to fossil fuels as to climate-friendly energy projects.  The funding agencies strongly disagreed with the analyses in the reports.

The Washington Post’s Peter Holley listed three developments that make him think 2017 may go down as the year that electric vehicles (EVs) became an industry-wide inevitability.  He then went on to list five ways a shift to EVs will affect our economy and our society.  Certainly, China is counting on EV production as a key component in their plan to transform the country into a high-tech industrial power.  India wants all new passenger car sales to be electric by 2030, but it faces many hurdles in achieving that goal.  Meanwhile, Paris authorities have announced that they plan to prohibit all gasoline- and diesel-fueled cars from the city by 2030.  

Toshiba has developed a new anode for its Super Charge ion Battery that allows it to store twice as much electricity per unit weight as the original version.  If incorporated into a compact EV, it would allow for a range of 186 mi after just six minutes of ultra-rapid charging, which is around three times the range offered by a standard, similarly charged lithium-ion battery.  Amazon was granted a patent for roving drones that can latch onto EVs and extend their range with an infusion of energy.

Barclay's Bank has examined what the boom in EVs, along with gains in fuel efficiency, might mean for oil demand.  Their research suggests that by 2025 oil demand could drop by an amount almost equal to Iran’s total production, and if EVs seize a third of the car market by 2040, the drop in demand would be nearly as much as Saudi Arabia produces.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that wind power generation over some ocean areas can exceed wind power generation on land by a factor of three or more.

Using data up to May 2017 published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Carbon Brief has prepared interactive maps for all states in the U.S. showing the type and capacity of electric power generating facilities.  They have also analyzed the information, including planned facilities.  Also this week, an analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that 19% of coal-fired power plants are economically unviable compared to alternative energy sources such as renewables and gas.

Royal Dutch Shell will purchase a top European operator of electric vehicle charging stations, Netherlands-based NewMotion, in a push to roll out the technology at many of its 45,000 service stations around the world.  Colorado and six other western states plan to install fast charging stations along eleven interstate highways.  These developments will require adaptation from the electric power industry according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Research on carbon-capture and storage is still moving forward and has reduced the cost of the technology from $100 per metric ton to around $40 per metric ton.  As part of the tax overhaul, advocates would like to increase the carbon-capture tax credits from $10 or $20 per metric ton, depending on use, to $35 or $50.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus