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Weekly Roundup 10-6-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending Oct. 6, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

Policy and Politics

On Thursday, President Donald Trump named Andrew Wheeler, a coal industry lobbyist and former congressional staffer, as his pick for deputy administrator of the EPA.  Reuters reported that reaction to the nomination was “mixed”.  The EPA will propose repealing the Clean Power Plan, according to an EPA document seen by Reuters.  The agency now intends to issue what it calls an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input as it considers “developing a rule similarly intended to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel electric utility generating units.”  The New York Times has additional information, including some background.  The CPP joins a long list of environmental regulations (many related to climate change) that the Trump administration has overturned (or tried to).  In contrast, on Thursday Stephen Badger, Chairman of the food company Mars, Inc., published an Op-Ed in The Washington Post that concluded with “This is a call to action for all in business to double down in support of the Paris agreement and the sustainable development goals.”

The Department of Interior was in the news this week.  First, a group that, without invitation, listened-in remotely to an invitation-only Bureau of Land Management meeting and webinar gave their notes to The Washington Post.  Among the items discussed was how to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law that has been called an environmental Magna Carta, to facilitate fossil fuel development.  In addition, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was expected to issue a proposal to delay a BLM rule requiring oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands to capture methane that would otherwise be vented or burned off, using a different legal provision than the one blocked by a federal judge on WednesdayJoel Clement, a senior Interior Department official, resigned on Wednesday, stating in his resignation letter to Zinke “You and President Trump have waged an all-out assault on the civil service by muzzling scientists and policy experts like myself.”  You can read his full letter here.  Meanwhile, the Department of Energy announced additional loan guarantees for construction of the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia and asked FERC to adopt new regulations concerning the way in which base-load power plants (i.e., coal and nuclear) recover costs.  However, E&E News reported that energy industry experts disputed the claim of the need for such action.

Climate

Yale Climate Connections presented a sobering video of glaciology professor Jorgen Peder Steffensen of the Neils Bohr Institute in Denmark discussing the risks of abrupt climate change.  The most disturbing revelation is that we simply don’t know what will trigger abrupt events like those that occurred in the past.  Even without abrupt changes, however, climate change represents an extreme threat to the future of wildlife, according to Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation.  A new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters reported on a comprehensive seabed mapping project of Greenland.  A major finding of the study is that the Greenland ice sheet is far more exposed to the warming oceans than previously known.  In fact, more than half of Greenland’s ice lies in or flows through areas that could be influenced by warming seas, accelerating their melting.

On September 22, Australia experienced its hottest September day since records began more than a century ago, reaching an average maximum temperature across the continent of 92.2°F, breaking the previous record set nine years ago.  In a special climate statement, the Bureau of Meteorology said climate change played a role.  Even worse, a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that even if the Paris Agreement goal of limiting average global warming to 2°C is met, summer heat waves in major Australian cities are likely to reach highs of 122°F by 2040.

Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief examined how well climate models have projected future warming and concluded: “Climate models published since 1973 have generally been quite skillful in projecting future warming.  While some were too low and some too high, they all show outcomes reasonably close to what has actually occurred, especially when discrepancies between predicted and actual CO2 concentrations and other climate forcings are taken into account.”

Data published on Thursday by the EPA showed that greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S.’s largest industrial facilities fell 2% in 2016, to 2.99 billion tonnes, led by a large cut from the power sector.  On the other hand, an analysis by an Australian think-tank revealed that Australia’s annual emissions reached an all time high.

Scientists at the U.S. Marine Biological Laboratory, with contributions from scientists at the Universities of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, conducted a 26-year study in the Harvard Forest of the impact of soil warming on CO2 emissions from the soil.  The results supported projections of a long-term, positive, carbon feedback loop wherein warming leads to more carbon emissions, which increases warming, leading to more emissions, etc.

The Associated Press analyzed 167 years of federal storm data and found that no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, this many days of hurricanes in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.

A report released Tuesday by the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford found that cattle fed on grass release more greenhouse gas emissions than are offset through soil carbon sequestration by root growth associated with the plants on which they feed.  In other words, grass-fed beef is “in no way a climate solution”, according to the lead author of the report.

Writing at Yale Environment 360 about the connection between climate change and increased wildfires, Nicola Jones stated: “Globally, the length of the fire weather season increased by nearly 19 percent between 1978 and 2013, thanks to longer seasons of warm, dry weather in one-quarter of the planet’s forests.  In the western United States, for example, the wildfire season has grown from five months in the 1970s to seven months today.”

Energy

The International Energy Agency issued a new forecast indicating that global renewable energy capacity will rise by 43% by 2022.  This forecast is largely driven by increasing expansion of solar energy in China and India.  The report also said that in 2016, almost two-thirds of new power capacity came from renewables.  Illustrating this is the increased interest in battery-backed local energy systems, such as solar, in response to the recent spate of hurricanes.

A new study, published in the journal Nature Energy, found that, at recent oil prices of $50 per barrel, tax preferences and other subsidies at the state and federal level push nearly half of new, yet-to-be-developed oil investments into profitability, potentially increasing U.S. oil production by 17 billion barrels over the next few decades.  Using that oil would put the equivalent of 6 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.  This is one of the reasons Tim McDonnell argued in The Washington Post that the solution to climate change is in the U.S. tax code.

For the past two weeks, I have included articles about the decision of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) in the Suniva/SolarWorld America solar panel trade case.  This week, Bloomberg Technology reported that the trade dispute has stalled solar-energy projects across the U.S.  However, Bloomberg Technology also reported that “[g]rowing demand for more resilient power supplies will spur $22.3 billion of global investment in battery-backed local energy systems over the next decade, according to Navigant Research.”

Two items from Rocky Mountain Institute dealt with energy efficiency in homes and the real estate market.  One was about an mpg-like rating for homes that are for sale.  It provides insights into things like the expected cost of maintaining the home, the environmental impact of the home, and how comfortable the home is likely to be.  The other explained how residential property assessed clean energy (R-PACE) financing could be used to allow people to buy net-zero energy homes with no additional upfront costs.

On Monday General Motors announced that it would rollout at least 20 all-electric vehicles by 2023, including two within the next 18 months.  The new models will be a mix of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  In addition, Ford Motor Co has formed a team to accelerate global development of electric vehicles.  A current impediment to adoption of battery electric vehicles is a lack of charging stations and charging time.  This situation is changing, however, with a big push underway to install more stations with fast chargers.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus