Carbon Emissions

NERC's Polite Review of the Clean Power Plan: A "Challenge"

April 30, 2015 07:11
by J. Wylie Donald
When the draft of EPA's Clean Power Plan was promulgated in the Federal Register last June, one of the critical questions raised by those in the electricity space was: what about reliability? If you shut down all those coal plants, will you have enough generation from other sources to keep the lights on? Even if you have enough generation, will you have enough natural gas at the times and places when you need it? Is there enough time to get the needed generation and resources in place under EPA's schedule?

Carbon Emissions | Legislation | Regulation | Utilities

A View from the FERC - Part III - Time to Keep the Lights On

March 16, 2015 06:40
by Tricia Caliguire
Last week, FERC held the eastern regional technical conference on “Environmental Regulations and Electric Reliability, Wholesale Electricity Markets, and Energy Infrastructure.”  The purpose was for the commissioners to hear the specific issues created by EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) relevant to the states, utilities, generators, consumers and transmission operators covered by ISO-New England, Inc., PJM Interconnection LLC, New York Independent System Operator, the Southeastern Regional Transmission Planning, South Carolina Regional Transmission Planning, Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, and the Northern Maine Independent System Administrator.  The overwhelming theme of the morning was that, to effectively comply with the CPP, the states, and state commissions, need more time. Most of the speakers recommended that EPA do away with the interim (2020-2029) compliance goals, complaining that there isn’t time between the likely date of the final rule (mid-summer 2015) and 2020 to plan for retirement of existing resources, and to permit, finance, and construct new natural gas combined cycle plants and the natural gas infrastructure on which these new plants will depend.  James Frauen from Seminole Electric Cooperative noted that the draft rule would require Florida to rely “almost completely” on natural gas, all of which must be imported. According to Frauen, the one new gas pipeline currently proposed to be built in Florida is already 91% subscribed.  (Not to mention that, in regulated markets, the premature retirement of coal plants means stranded assets which must be paid for by the same ratepayers who must finance the new sources.) Mike Kormos, VP of Operations for PJM, frankly stated, “[PJM] needs time and transparency.”  He explained that he couldn’t predict the impact of the CPP on reliability because of the unknowns.  “We don’t know what the final rule is,” he continued, “we don’t know what will be in the state implementation plans, and we don’t know how the market will respond.”  (Note that PJM modeled regional implementation of the CPP using the draft rules though at least one state complained that such modeling was premature.) Which begs the question: what is the rush?  Why not give the states more than one year to propose their SIPs and more than just two years for regional SIPs?  Keep in mind that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – a voluntary agreement – took close to five years to develop.  The answer may be found in the collision of politics and policy.  That President Obama has made the reversal of climate change, and particularly reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, a cornerstone of his second term should come as no surprise.  Between his 2008 statement that “under my plan. . . electricity rates necessarily would skyrocket,”  and his 2009 pledge in Copenhagen to reduce emissions “17% below 2005 levels by 2020,”  he made his intentions clear.  After failing to get climate change legislation through Congress in 2010, he turned to EPA.  Despite rumors that the rules had to wait until after the 2012 election, it now seems unlikely that they would have been ready before then.  What does seem likely is that the Administration wants to have the rules – and the SIPs – firmly in place before Obama leaves office, in January 2017.  Hence, the rush. When the final rule is issued this summer, as EPA continues to promise it will be, the states will have one year to file their SIPs, unless this requirement is stayed pending litigation.  After EPA reviews the SIPs, the states will have roughly two to three years to begin implementation.  The states will be in the same Catch-22 that they found themselves in with the Affordable Care Act:  Cash-strapped states may waste time and resources planning for a law that could be thrown out or substantially altered by the courts, but otherwise, they risk that the law will survive legal challenge and, by not having a SIP in place, will be subject to a less-flexible federal program.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) weighed in on the side of delay, warning states that submission of SIPs could subject them to “federal enforcement and expose [states with SIPs] to lawsuits.”  If the states don’t cooperate, McConnell reasons, it will “give the courts time to figure out if [the CPP ] is even legal, and it would give Congress more time to fight back.”  Supporters of the CPP responded that states who fail to design their own compliance plans will be at a “huge disadvantage.”  Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.  As FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller pointed out, “we don’t have a whole lot of time … because summer’s coming.”  

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Regulation | Utilities

The Clean Power Plan: A View from FERC, Part II - Infrastructure

February 26, 2015 12:54
by Tricia Caliguire
Because I had a seat inside the meeting room at FERC's Clean Power Plan Overview last Thursday, I got a close-up view of the protesters.  Most were older (as opposed to the college-student variety), they carried signs, wore matching red t-shirts and, after the first panel concluded, began to chant, “gas is dirty.”  Though none of them explained what they meant, and the speakers so far had not focused on Building Block 2 (shifting dispatch from coal to natural gas combined-cycle generators), most of the rest of the crowd understood that they were protesting the Clean Power Plan (CPP) reliance on natural gas-fired power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Given that the temperature outside was in the single digits, I wanted to ask the group if they knew how the building was heated sufficient for them to wear only t-shirts, but that would have meant risking my seat, so I demurred. The red shirts would have been pleased to hear, later in the day, that the US Department of Energy (DOE) recently completed a study titled “Natural Gas Infrastructure Implications of Increased Demand from the Electric Power Sector,” which found that compliance with the CPP would not require much additional spending for natural gas pipelines.  Commissioner LaFleur “questioned [the study’s] conclusions,” including that increased demand for gas can be satisfied by better or more strategic utilization of existing pipeline capacity.  Commissioner Clark was more blunt, pointing out that DOE gives the “false impression” that siting of pipelines will be easier than experience – particularly in the northeast – has proven it to be. As if to prove him prescient, last night, FERC staff held a scoping meeting for the PennEast pipeline project, proposed to traverse six, mainly suburban and rural, counties over a 114-mile route in northeast Pennsylvania and west-central New Jersey.  Hundreds turned out at the Ewing, New Jersey hearing (the first in New Jersey); most strongly opposed the pipeline; and many spoke in favor of the “no build” alternative.  The director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, compared the natural gas companies to the British and Hessian invaders who tried “to take our land” in the 1700s (though some might argue that the land more precisely belonged to the British at that point).  “This pipeline turns 50 years of public policy and change on its head,” he continued. Supporters of the pipeline included union members (who need jobs) and the gas companies.  Though they spoke of the increased reliability of supply for their customers, some of which are power plants, they did not discuss the significant CPP compliance obligations of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and the role that natural gas-fired generation will likely play in meeting those obligations. Which brings us back to the meeting room at FERC.  Toward the end of the afternoon, an Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) representative conceded that not all environmental policies align.  Nuclear is carbon free, but it is nuclear.  Wind and solar are expensive, intermittent, take up lots of space, and interfere with (even kill) birds and bats.  The best wind resources are far from load and transmission lines are unsightly and may traverse protected areas.  Natural gas plants are cleaner than coal and oil, but the gas has to be brought to the surface and transported, whether by pipeline or tanker truck or train. And, as the red shirts made clear, some think gas too is dirty.  To meet the CPP goals in 2030, some policies will have to give.

Carbon Emissions | Regulation | Utilities

The Clean Power Plan: A View from FERC

February 19, 2015 19:30
by J. Wylie Donald
It is innocuous enough: Conference on Environmental Regulations; but the plainness of title belies what is going on at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission today. Today is the first public forum at FERC on EPA's Clean Power Plan. It is playing to overflow crowds. Notwithstanding arriving an hour early, I didn't even get to see the Commission, except remotely. One of the panelists characterized the implications of the Clean Power Plan as the most significant transformation of the bulk power system ever. While some might not agree, none would disagree that EPA's involvement in the electricity grid is unprecedented. This tension was evidenced repeatedly. Reliability and affordability are paramount - where are they referenced in EPA's plan? States and FERC regulate power supply and distribution - how is EPA directing States to prefer one source over another? Citizen suits regularly seek to compel compliance with Clean Air Act requirements - who will be the target when a State plan incorporates voluntary initiatives like fluorescent light bulbs or efficiency planning?So that all have the basics: EPA issued its proposed rule last summer. Comments were due in the fall. A final rule is predicted in early summer. EPA has proposed a broad and flexible plan (EPA's terms) to allow the United States to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions 30% below its 2005 emissions. Each State has been given targets with wide flexibility on how it will get there. EPA has identified four building blocks: improvements in fossil fuel plant efficiency, expansion of renewable energy and nuclear power sources, replacement of coal plants with natural gas, and improvements in system efficiencies. State plans are required by 2016, which can be extended to 2017 and even 2018. Requirements kick in by 2020 with the plans fully implemented by 2030. The Commission is holding fora on the subject over the next 45 days. Besides today's National Overview conference, upcoming regional meetings are scheduled for Denver (2/25), DC (3/11) and St. Louis (3/31).The conference opened with FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur explaining the Commission's goals. FERC wants to move beyond rhetoric and ideology. There will be three panels focusing on reliability (which is all we will address in this blog), infrastructure and markets. The goal is to identify concrete facts and suggestions to move things forward. The other commissioners lent their views as well. Commissioner Moeller pointed out that the role of wholesale markets has expanded over the last several decades. In so doing, the grid has provided unprecedented reliable and affordable power to consumers. The Clean Power Plan cannot upset those markets. Commissioner Clark stated that the "rubber meets the road" issue is reliability, and responsibility for that falls squarely on State regulators and FERC. There needs to be a granular and technical analysis to make this happen, which will require the permitting of a lot of infrastructure. The analysis will be two-fold: what does the reliability analysis need to look like (things like voltage support, market impact, SIP integration) and how can FERC leverage its expertise to assist EPA. Commissioner Bay echoed the concerns about challenges and FERC assistance; he also emphasized the importance of addressing infrastructure and market operation. Commissioner Honorable likewise saw the exercise as a job of constructively and thoughtfully solving the problem, and in so doing providing assistance to EPA. Acting EPA Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe spoke for EPA. She acknowledged that reliability is absolutely critical and offered that in the last forty years of Clean Air Act activity, at no time have EPA actions affected reliability. Anticipating a topic raised by other speakers, Ms. McCabe was confident that the EPA proposal could be implemented by 2030, but she seemed to be offering flexibility on the interim deadlines; EPA is listening to the States' and industry's concerns about the short term planning horizons. Another anticipated topic was the reliability safety valve (RSV), although EPA did not call it by that name. Ms. McCabe offered that experience with the Mercury, Air Toxics Standards (MATS) demonstrated that compliance could be melded with reliability. Chairman LaFleur commented that her review of the written comments identified five different RSVs that people were considering: 1) a fixed process identified in the rule, 2) a dynamic process that can take account of changing conditions, 3) a rule that takes into consideration the mutual achievability of all state plans, 4) exceptions for particular plants, 5) exceptions for particular evolving circumstances (i.e., a hotline). There was no consensus on what should be written into the rule. The panelists did not see it exactly like EPA did. Focusing on just these two topics (timeline and RSV) one heard the following:TIMING States are not working on their implementation plans because the proposed rule is too uncertain (Environmental Council of the States - Alexandra Dunn, Edison Electric Institute member companies - Gerard Anderson) The timing to build plants, pipelines, and infrastructure is all five years or more - the interim deadline of 2020 is simply not achievable; a longer "glide path" to 2030 is needed (EEI) A longer timeline is necessary (American Public Power Association - Sue Kelly) The deadlines are not realistic - we are facing a short-term "cliff" (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association - Jay Morrison) There is no short-term cliff; PJM has demonstrated this (Sustainable FERC Project - John Moore)Pushing out the interim deadline and easing the "glide path" would make achieving EPA's goals a lot easier (EEI, Environmental Council of the States) RELIABILITY SAFETY VALVE All the contingencies cannot be seen now so there has to be an RSV "baked into the rule" (National Electricity Reliability Corporation (NERC) - Gerry Cauley)No one has defined what a reliability safety valve is so the ISO/RTO Council did and provided specifics in its written comments. Key is that the process for invoking the RSV needs to be written into the rule (Independent System Operator/Regional Transmission Organizations Council - Craig Glazer) The RSV needs to be dynamic - able to adjust based on changing resources over the 15 year implementation period and beyond (NRECA)The need for the RSV is overstated, but if it is available it needs to be tightly written (Sustainable FERC Project)The RSV needs to be available for entities that have approved operations but then find that things go awry (APPA) The EEI companies have not reached agreement on what the scope of the RSV should be (EEI). Other topics that bear paying attention to included: EPA involvement may interfere with the exclusive jurisdiction of the state utility commissioners (National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) - Lisa Edgar) Intermittent sources may compromise reliability (NARUC, NERC)The patchwork of state plans may not work together effectively (NERC) Need better coordination of electricity and gas sectors (APPA)EPA did not consider the value of fuel diversity (NRECA)States will be reluctant to bring their voluntary programs into a federally mandated implementation plan (Environmental Council of the States) As can be seen, there are a lot of topics for discussion. We expect the dialog will be intense over the next several months. On one thing there was unanimity, however; all of the panelists wanted FERC to be more than a potted plant. As Sue Kelly of APPA put it, EPA has swept FERC into the maelstrom, FERC cannot be chopped liver.

Carbon Emissions | Regulation | Utilities

EPA COMMENTS SUGGEST EMPHASIS ON CREATIVITY AND INTERNALIZING EXTERNALITIES IN CLIMATE STRATEGY

October 14, 2014 06:29
by Jameson Tweedie
The American Bar Association's Section of Energy, Environment and Resources held its Fall Conference last week.  Noteworthy from a climate perspective were the keynote address by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, along with comments by other officials within President Obama's Administration with specific responsibility on climate issues—including Samantha Medlock, Deputy Associate Director for Climate Preparedness (White House Council on Environmental Quality); Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor (Department of the Interior); Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (EPA); and Lorie Schmidt, Associate General Counsel of Air and Radiation (EPA).  Two repeated themes have particular resonance on climate issues. First was a repeated focus on the role of government to level the playing field.  Emphasized, for example, was the EPA’s effort to strongly enforce existing regulations and permits to eliminate competitive advantages that environmental rule-breaking gains individuals or companies over their rule-abiding competitors—in other words, to internalize the externalities associated with environmental rule-breaking.  Or, as Administrator McCarthy put it, to make compliance the efficient decision.  An analogous focus was evident on reducing the advantage the Administration believes heavy carbon-emitting companies gain over their lower-carbon competitors.  Ms. Schmidt, in particular, made clear the Administration's intent, in the wake of the authority left to the EPA by the Supreme Court in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 573 U.S. ___ (2014), to continue imposing carbon limits on all applicable large emission sources. All indications are that the Administration is looking for opportunities to expand the reach of carbon emission limits beyond just those large sources.  The goal of leveling the carbon playing field across sources would undoubtedly have been simpler in many respects through a nationwide carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.  Indeed, John Cruden (current President of the Environmental Law Institute and nominee to head the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division), quoted former Secretary of State George Shultz who expressed the pressing need to put "all forms of energy production on an even playing field" by internalizing the externalities associated with carbon emissions and other pollutants.  But, with a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade system a congressional nonstarter, the Administration is left seeking a piecemeal set of solutions that, taken together, can achieve its climate goals.  This challenge seemed to lead naturally into the second theme of Administration personnel:  the need for creative solutions.  While by no means limited to climate change (for example, this was also reiterated in CERCLA and other enforcement contexts), the need for creative solutions seems particularly apt in the broad climate context facing the Administration.  That is, congressional impasse on top of stalled or snail pace efforts to reach an international framework.  Within these parameters, any significant short term climate change efforts are left to state and local action, to action within the corporate world (as former EPA head William Reilly was quoted, CEOs are the "unsung heroes" of the environmental movement, making environmental progress cost competitive) and to administrative action.  Ms. Medlock particularly pointed out the burden likely to fall on state and local government to devise innovative, cost-effective solutions to build resiliency along the coasts to the double challenge of rising sea levels and the increased storm intensity and storm surges which climate change is predicted to bring.  (Evidencing the Administration’s focus on this issue, Administrator McCarthy headed directly from the Conference to an event on Miami Beach highlighting the rising seas and extreme tides facing South Florida.)  As recent reports have indicated, while climate change impacts will be unevenly spread, no region will be spared its share of challenges, whether they be sea level rise and storm surge, flooding or drought, extreme temperatures or otherwise.  Without a doubt, creativity is required.

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Climate Change Effects | Rising Sea Levels

Top 6 at 6: Highlights of the Top Climate Change Legal Stories in the First Half of 2014

July 7, 2014 06:10
by J. Wylie Donald
Our semi-annual look at the top climate change legal stories is keyed on EPA.  You hardly have to have been awake to be aware of the Clean Power Plan and UARG v. EPA.  But other things have stirred the pot as well:  three reports – two by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the other by Standard & Poor’s, and two climate change lawsuits – one by Illinois Farmers Insurance Company and the other by Biscayne Bay Water Keeper.    1.  The Clean Power Plan - On June 6 EPA issued a 600+ page proposal directed at controlling carbon dioxide emissions from operating power plants.  By June 2016 States are required to submit plans for such control (there is also an option for extending the due date if more time is needed).  EPA’s press release summarizes what is supposed to happen:   The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce carbon pollution and gives them the flexibility to design a program that makes the most sense for their unique situation. States can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs. It allows them to work alone to develop individual plans or to work together with other states to develop multi-state plans.    Thus, the learning that has gone on over the past several years as embodied in RGGI, AB 32, RPSs and other state initiatives is going to have an opportunity to prove itself. 2. UARG v. EPA - The Supreme Court has now weighed in on climate change three times:  Massachusetts v. EPA, Connecticut v. American Electric Power and, this past month, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA. – Readers will remember the D.C. Circuit’s 2012 ruling in favor of EPA defeating challenges to the Endangerment Finding, the Tailpipe Rule, the Timing Rule and the Tailoring Rule.  UARG was a limited appeal of that decision and accomplished nearly all that EPA required.  At the end of June the Supreme Court affirmed EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory program, with the exception of rules focused on a small group of emitters.  How small?  Before UARG EPA estimated its rules would reach 86% of GHG emissions.  After UARG EPA can reach only 83%.  In a nutshell, EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act to impose GHG emission regulations on major emitters already subject to regulation.  This bodes ill for those seeking to challenge the Clean Power Plan. 3. Climate Science - The science continues to mount demonstrating the effects of climate change.  In two more contributions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group II lays out in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability “how patterns of risks and potential benefits are shifting due to climate change.”  The report also assesses how “impacts and risks related to climate change can be reduced and managed through adaptation and mitigation.”  In Climate Change 2014:  Mitigation of Climate Change Working Group III “respond[ed] to the request of the world's governments for a comprehensive, objective and policy neutral assessment of the current scientific knowledge on mitigating climate change." The two reports complement Working Group I’s report released last year, which concluded:  “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” 4.  Climate Risk - It has been a common theme for this blog that acceptance of climate change will occur not because of science, but because of the responses of business entities that recognize that climate change denial is not in their best interest.  But it is also a theme that until there is an actual identified business reason to take an action, businesses will not go out on a limb.  Standard & Poor’s exemplifies our thinking.  In March it issued a short report, Climate Change is a Global Mega-Trend for Sovereign Risk.  In the report S&P concludes “the evidence suggests that it is probably safe to expect that for most national economies, other things being equal, climate change will negatively impact national welfare and economic growth potential.  Observations corroborating this expectation could lead Standard & Poor’s to lower sovereign ratings on the most affected sovereigns.”  That is, “we see a potential problem but we aren’t ready to act just yet.”  Notwithstanding S&P's failure to move today, this pronouncement does communicate to the buyers of sovereign debt that they had better pay attention to climate change as it may be material to their investment. 5.  Illinois Farmers Insurance Co. v. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago  - It didn’t take Illinois Farmers long (less than 60 days) to drop its lawsuits against dozens of municipalities and other government entities alleging negligent management of stormwater.  The central feature was the claim that the government entities were on notice of the effects of climate change and did not incorporate them into their stormwater planning.  We presume the entities’ sovereign immunity defense persuaded Illinois Farmers to go quietly in the night.  But the insurance company has competent lawyers and sovereign immunity surely was no surprise.  So, was this the proverbial shot across the bow, putting government, and the entities that serve government – the design and engineering firms – on notice that climate change had better enter into their forecasts or they will be pursued for negligence?  Time will tell.  6. U.S. v. Miami-Dade County - Miami-Dade’s sewer insfrastructure is falling apart and EPA compelled the city into a consent order under the Clean Water Act to get things cleaned up.  Enter the intervenor, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, who insisted that the consent decree was improper as it did not take rising sea levels caused by climate change into effect.  Federal district court judge Federico A. Moreno considered the consent decree and rejected it because it lacked sufficient incentive for the county to abide by the decree.  The court did not mention BBWK’s concern.  Nevertheless, Miami-Dade appears to have gotten the message that it needs to be paying attention.  The county has a task force devoted to sea level rise and it is preparing a report with recommendations.  This is from the April 28 minutes of the task force:    Chairman Ruvin said that sea level rise was inevitable, and to ensure that the community remained insurable, it was important to begin implementing a plan to address this issue. … Chairman Ruvin noted the Task Force members had heard enough information to understand the necessity of developing a plan to address sea level rise.  He said that there were global engineering firms with entire divisions devoted to sea level rise, and suggested that the County conduct a competitive process to retain the services of some of these firms to develop this plan. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the task force's recommendations will be accepted.

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change Litigation | Regulation | Rising Sea Levels | Supreme Court | Year in Review

Is RGGI in New Jersey's and Pennsylvania’s Future?

June 14, 2014 08:02
by John McAleese
With the release of EPA’s proposed regulation of CO2 from existing sources on June 2, there has been a lot of speculation that states will look to cap-and-trade schemes as a means of complying with EPA’s mandate that the states reduce CO2 emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) provides an existing market-based framework for states in the northeast, and maybe nationwide, to implement cap-and-trade on an interstate basis. RGGI is currently a voluntary, interstate greenhouse gas emissions trading platform among Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. For New Jersey, which was in RGGI at one time but withdrew under the Christie administration, the new EPA regulations, assuming they become final in substantially the same form, give it the opportunity to re-think its decision to withdraw several years ago. So far, the New Jersey regulators have indicated that they are not willing to re-join RGGI, even as means of complying with the new EPA regulations. There are certainly other means for the state to achieve the emissions reductions called for by the EPA regulations such as limits with no trading, or mandates on use of non-CO2-emitting generation such as solar, wind and nuclear. However, the cap-and-trade structure provided by programs like RGGI offers sources the economic incentives for voluntary reductions even beyond what is called for by the EPA regulations. Time and pressure from the regulated community may change this position over the next several years – wait and see. Pennsylvania’s situation is even more intriguing. There is a Pennsylvania gubernatorial election this November. Pennsylvanians will vote either to keep the incumbent Republican, Tom Corbett, or to replace him with Democratic candidate, Tom Wolf. At the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Annual Philadelphia Dinner on Wednesday night, both candidates spoke to the mixed crowd of representatives of environmental groups, government and industry. Governor Corbett did not mention either RGGI or the proposed EPA CO2 emissions regulations, but he did signal his continuing support for natural gas production in the Commonwealth through fracking as a means to provide cleaner energy for Pennsylvania, and his belief that environmental stewardship is important but must be “balanced” with economic considerations. Mr. Wolf, on the other hand, unequivocally stated that, if elected Governor, he will “bring RGGI to Pennsylvania!” Several members of the crowd clapped enthusiastically, while everyone else remained quiet in anticipation of the dinner which had yet to be served. It will be interesting to see whether this limb that Mr. Wolf climbed (jumped) out on will sustain the weight of five more months of what is sure to be a heated campaign. There is a very good potential that this issue will become an important hot button in the election.

Carbon Emissions | Greenhouse Gases | Legislation | Regulation

'Deferral Rule' is Derailed - Biogenic Greenhouse Gas Emitters Stand By to Be Regulated

July 19, 2013 06:27
by J. Wylie Donald
The greenhouse gas rule you’ve never heard of, the Deferral Rule, was shot down (barely) by the D.C. Circuit last week.  See Center for Biological Diversity v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 11-1101 (D.C. Cir., July 12, 2013).   The opinion offers a wonderful primer on greenhouse gas rulemaking and describes the Timing Rule, the Tailpipe Rule and the Tailoring Rule.  It also explains in great detail numerous doctrines concerning agency rulemaking.  And it balances on the edge of a knife.  There is an opinion (Tatel, J.).  There is a concurring opinion (Kavanaugh, J.) that joins the opinion but goes even further, and which additionally states that “I believe, contrary to this Circuit’s precedent, that the PSD statute does not cover carbon dioxide.”  Opinion at 24.  And last, there is a detailed dissent (Henderson, J.) that addresses the arguments of the opinion to good effect.  If one is looking for definitive guidance this opinion will not suffice. Even without the Court’s decision, the rule would have died a year from now anyway.  The rule we are talking about is found at 76 Fed. Reg. 43,490, Deferral for CO2 Emissions From Bioenergy and Other Biogenic Sources Under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V Programs.  To those less tied to formality, it is the Deferral Rule.  Under the Deferral Rule, EPA delayed for three years regulation as stationary sources under the Clean Air Act emitters of “biogenic”  carbon dioxide while it further assessed the subject.  Biogenic CO2, is biologically derived CO2, as opposed to CO2 derived from fossil fuels.  It includes emissions from burning landfill methane, combustion of municipal biologically derived solid waste, fermentation processes for ethanol manufacturing and the burning of biomass.  Biogenic CO2 is not discernably different in the atmosphere from that derived from fossil fuels.  Its difference lies in its context.  Biogenic CO2, when considered over time, may have a neutral or even reducing effect on total CO2 emissions because, for example, while the burning of biomass releases CO2, the growing of biomass pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequesters it.  On the whole, facilities burning biomass might actually result in less CO2 emissions.  The purpose of the Deferral Rule was to permit EPA to spend some more time studying biogenic CO2 so as to avoid issuing regulations that accomplished little. In its rulemaking EPA offered three doctrines as justifications for its rule:  the de minimis, one-step-at-a-time, and administrative necessity doctrines.  The de minimis doctrine allows an administrative agency to grant regulatory exemptions ”when the burdens of regulation yield a gain of trivial or no value.”  Opinion at 13.  The one-step-at-a-time doctrine allows an agency to proceed in a “piecemeal fashion.”  Id.  And the administrative necessity doctrine allows an agency to “avoid implementing a statute by showing that attainment of the statutory objectives is impossible.” Id. at 15-16.  The absurd results rule, which EPA set forth in its brief, rejects the interpretation of a statute that would produce an absurd result.  Id. at 17.  The Court rejected all four theories.  The de minimis doctrine only applied to permanent exemptions, as the EPA conceded.  Id. at 13. Accordingly, it did not apply.  The dissent disagreed.  It saw the exception as available, particularly when the statute “expressly does not regulate “minor” sources that cause little harm because they release below-threshold levels of pollutants.”  Id. at 35. Application of the one-step-at-a-time doctrine was found to be arbitrary and capricious because EPA did not set out how it intended to achieve the statutory goal:  “We simply have no idea what EPA believes constitutes ‘full compliance’ with the statute.  In other words, the Deferral Rule is one step towards … what?  Without a clear answer to that question, EPA has no basis for invoking the one-step-at-a-time doctrine.”  Id. at 15.  The dissent was not buying:  “just as EPA proceeded gradually in regulating GHGs under the Tailoring Rule, EPA has delayed its regulation of a specific GHG via the Deferral Rule.  The fact that EPA is required to take action does not preclude it from phasing in the action using the step-at-a-time method.”  Id. at 33. The Court found fault with the administrative necessity theory because EPA did not explore what the Court referred to as the “middle-ground option,” requiring permitting except where the source took steps to reduce its biogenic CO2 emissions.  Because EPA had an “obligation to adopt the narrowest exemption possible, it should have explained why it rejected an option that would have reduced emissions from sources the Deferral Rule permanently exempts.”  Id. at 16-17.  Last, there was the absurd results rule, which EPA sought to apply “because ‘emissions of CO2 derived from certain forms of biomass may not only fail to endanger public health and welfare, but in fact may benefit the public by reducing the net emissions of CO2,’ …[and] it would run afoul of congressional intent to regulate them.” Id. at 17-18. The Court found, however, that EPA did not utilize this rule in its rulemaking, notwithstanding passing references.  Simply put, “[t]hese passing references [fell] far short of satisfying EPA’s ‘fundamental’ obligation to ‘set forth the reasons for its actions.’”  Id. at 18. The concurrence, as noted above, did not believe CO2 was even regulated by the statute.  But that had been previously decided to the contrary and “that’s water over the dam in this Court.”  Id. at 25.  As to the issue before him, that answer was easy:  “EPA simply lacks statutory authority to distinguish biogenic carbon dioxide from other forms of carbon dioxide.”  Id. at 21.  In sum, EPA was required to address emissions of CO2 and there was no part of the statute that allowed “EPA to exempt  … emissions of a covered air pollutant just because the effects of those sources’ emissions on the atmosphere might be offset in some other way.”  Id. at 22.  The last point raised by the dissent, in our view, sums up the entire case:  what was the point?  The dissent would have dismissed because the case was not ripe.  First, it needed to be fit for review.  The rule was temporary and by July 2014 EPA would either have let the rule expire or issued a new rule, one that the petitioners might like, but certainly one that would have been informed by the additional three years of research.  Id. at 38.  Second, deferring decision would work no real hardship to petitioners.  Only one facility had been identified as being able to avoid permitting as a result of the Deferral Rule.  The dissent pointed out that the facility enjoyed no more than the previous status quo:  “the hardship of which the petitioners complain is hyperbolically overblown.  The Deferral Rule does not deregulate scores of polluters.  Instead, it temporarily maintains the theretofore long-time status quo for a limited number of stationary sources that – until July 1, 2011 – had never been subject to regulation as a major source under PSD.”  Id. at 42. In our view, substantively, this decision accomplished little.  A rule that was going to expire next year, expires this year.  Parties seeking to rely on a decision by esteemed arbiters of the law find the arbiters completely at odds with one another.  But that may be the true significance of Center for Biological Diversity.  Notwithstanding that “the task of dealing with global warming is urgent and important at the national and international level,” id. at 25, consistency of approach is by no means assured in any arena, including the courts.

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Greenhouse Gases | Regulation

Top 6 at 6: Highlights of the Top Climate Change Stories in the First Half of 2013

June 30, 2013 21:01
by J. Wylie Donald
Another six months have passed and it is time for our semi-annual look at climate change and its intersection with the law.  Here are some highlights of the last six months: 1.  The Administration’s Focus.  After months of silence in the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama rejuvenated his administration’s commitment to addressing climate change.  We heard in his inaugural address:   “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”  He carried this forward in his State of the Union address less than a month later: “I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  (Applause.)  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”     And in a speech this past Tuesday the promises took another step toward reality when the President outlined his “climate action plan.”  Recognizing the logjam in Congress, the Administration's plan is based on authority the executive branch already has. The salient points include:  1) further restrictions on powerplant greenhouse gas emissions (notably addressing coal); 2) promotion of resilience and adaptation with respect to weather-related calamities; 3) additional permitting of renewable energy facilities on public lands; and 4) engagement in the international arena on climate change such as working out a global free trade agreement on clean energy technologies.   The goal is a reduction of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17%.  The Wall Street Journal called these “sweeping climate policies.”  We will see; with no new authority, Gina McCarthy’s nomination to head EPA held up, and the bounty of natural gas unleashed by fracking, greenhouse gas reduction may be achieved by the market, see Leveraging Natural Gas to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions,  not governmental efforts.   2. 400 PPM.  On May 9, Mauna Loa Observatory of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory reported that the average weekly value of atmospheric carbon dioxide at the observatory had reached 400 ppm, a level unsurpassed in 3 million years.  The world collectively ignored the number, treating it more like an insignificant decimal, 0.0004, which it was (a decimal, not insignificant).  We don’t think anyone will dispute that there are three ways to interpret this number:  it’s bad, it’s good, it’s neither.  Climate scientists are unanimous that it’s bad.  There is nothing saying it’s good.  Which means the justification for not taking action on climate change is that the ever increasing levels, and the ever increasing rate of accumulation, of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (see the graphs by the observatory), are of no consequence.  US Airways will probably side with the climate scientists - it canceled 18 flights as a result of the record-breaking temperatures in the southwest this past weekend.  As a footnote, we note that Mauna Loa’s number is an average, and is subject to refinement.  As it turned out, the 400 ppm number was refined a few weeks later to 399.89.   3.  Free Trade.  In 2009 Ontario enacted its Green Energy Act to promote renewable energy in the province.  One approach is the adoption of a feed-in tariff (mandatory above-market rates for electricity derived from renewable resources).  This had successfully been pioneered in Germany.  Ontario legislators also saw the opportunity to spur job growth by giving subsidies to businesses that sourced their wind turbines and solar panels in Ontario (i.e., “domestic content”). Japan jumped on this protectionism immediately and sought consultations with Canada under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization. The consultations were ineffective and Japan requested a panel to hear the dispute concerning Ontario’s “domestic content requirements," with which renewable energy generators were required to comply "in the design and construction of electricity generation facilities in order to qualify for guaranteed prices” under the feed-in tariff program. Last December the panel ruled in favor of Japan on the domestic content requirements. Canada appealed and this May the appellate panel affirmed. Ontario's energy minister has confirmed that Ontario will abide by the WTO decision and revise its Green Energy Act.   We conclude that free trade remains colorblind. 4. Climate Change Liability Lawsuits.  For seven years now, the first wave of climate change liability lawsuits have roiled the legal waters.  It bears remembering that in October 2009, the plaintiffs in these cases rode the crest of the wave.  The Second Circuit had reversed the trial court’s dismissal in Connecticut v. American Electric Power (AEP), and the Fifth Circuit likewise overturned the Southern District of Mississippi’s dismissal of Comer v. Murphy Oil USA.  Plaintiffs had standing; the political question doctrine did not apply. Things have gone badly for the plaintiffs since.  All readers of this blog know of the Supreme Court’s decision in AEP, stifling the plaintiffs’ case under the doctrine of displacement.  This year two more decisions confirmed the Judicial Branch’s hostility to these claims.  Comer made it back to the Fifth Circuit, where dismissal was summarily affirmed on the doctrine of res judicata.  And the last of the original quadriga, Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., found its petition for certiorari denied in April,  thus leaving the Ninth Circuit’s affirmance of dismissal unchanged. The only reed left for the plaintiffs is the granting of a petition for certiorari in Comer, a prospect we deem unlikely, if only because the appeal would be based on a purely procedural question of little likelihood of being repeated and of little relevance to the larger climate change issues. 5.  Ursus Maritimus.  On March 1 the D.C. Circuit in In re Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Litigation  affirmed the district court’s dismissal of challenges to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because “due to the effects of global climate change, the polar bear is likely to become an endangered species and face the threat of extinction within the foreseeable future.” The polar bear’s friends (environmental groups) sought to have the bear listed as “endangered.”  Ursus maritimus’s less-than-friends (the State of Alaska and hunting groups), urged that no listing was appropriate.  The standard in such reviews is relatively simple:  “Our principal responsibility here is to determine, in light of the record considered by the agency, whether the Listing Rule is a product of reasoned decisionmaking.”  The Court found that it was, holding specifically the the Listing Rule rests on a three-part thesis: the polar bear is dependent upon sea ice for its survival; sea ice is declining; and climatic changes have and will continue to dramatically reduce the extent and quality of Arctic sea ice to a degree sufficiently grave to jeopardize polar bear populations. See Listing Rule, 73 Fed. Reg. at 28,212. No part of this thesis is disputed and we find that FWS’s conclusion – that the polar bear is threatened within the meaning of the ESA – is reasonable and adequately supported by the record.” As arctic resource development progresses as the ice retreats, the polar bear's Endangered Species Act listing is sure to take on larger significance, both as a model for the preservation of other arctic species, and as a tool to block development. 6.  Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). On June 13 the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in Association of Taxicab Operators USA v. City of Dallas. In the case the local taxicab organization challenged a city ordinance that allowed CNG-fueled taxicabs “head-of-the-line” privileges at Love Field in downtown Dallas. Plaintiff's theory was that section 209(a) of the Clean Air Act, which prohibits states and their political subdivisions from adopting emission standards for motor vehicles, preempted the ordinance either directly or by implication. The Fifth Circuit did not agree. Traditional police powers of the state were preserved to the state by section 209(d) of the Clean Air Act. More importantly, an ordinance granting head-of-the-line privileges, on its face did not set an emission standard, as required by the statute.  As to any implied preemption, the ordinance may have influenced taxicab operators to alter their behavior, but it did not compel them to do so. Less than 7% of Dallas's taxicabs served Love Field and the only place CNG cabs had head-of-the-line privileges was at Love Field; there were plenty of other places for gasoline powered cabs to pick up fares. Accordingly implied preemption did not apply either.  One of our themes in a world beset by climate change is that there will be winners and there will be losers. Little did taxicab operators know they would be both.

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The Tar Sands Debate Comes to Delaware

June 25, 2013 08:49
by Jameson Tweedie
Across the country, environmental organizations have made the transport and processing of crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada a focal point in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, citing higher carbon emissions of oil from the tar sands (although that assertion is disputed).  The proposed Keystone XL pipeline currently being reviewed by the State Department is perhaps the most visible example of this fight, with numerous environmental organizations lining up to oppose it (for example, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org and others), with some advocating civil disobedience in their efforts to defeat the pipeline.  (Slightly less high profile is the Northern Gateway pipeline – which would transport crude from Alberta through British Colombia to the west coast for overseas export – now opposed by the government of British Columbia.)  While the Keystone XL debate may not directly impact Delaware, it appears the focus on tar sands crude, and the controversy that seems to follow it, has arrived in Delaware in what might otherwise have been considered an economic success story:  PBF Energy’s Delaware City Refinery. The Delaware City Refinery was shuttered in 2009, but after being purchased by PBF Energy in 2010 – reportedly after significant personal effort by Governor Jack Markell – the Refinery reopened bringing hundreds of jobs back to the state.  According to PBF, the Delaware City Refinery is “one of the largest and most complex refineries on the East Coast” and employs more than 400 full time employees.  (For comparison, the Delaware City and nearby Paulsboro, N.J. Refineries can process a combined total of 370,000 barrels per day; the Keystone XL pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels per day.)  The Refinery, however, has encountered a laundry list of headlines in recent months, including a violation notice from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) for unauthorized releases of 527,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, complaints from nearby residents after a separate incident with the Refinery’s pollution control system “sent dark smoke billowing from a stack at the plant,” and disputes about the significantly expanded rail car delivery of crude oil, including tar sands crude, to the Refinery.  The expansion of the Refinery’s rail yard in particular met with significant environmental opposition because of the use of Canadian tar sands crude to supply the Refinery, and the subsequent shipment by barge of such crude up the Delaware River to PBF’s nearby Paulsboro, New Jersey refinery.  The most recent disputes are over the facility’s air emissions permits.  One permit process, for the Refinery's Title V permit, included the expected, if unexpectedly high, profile:  Those in support, including a rally of hundreds of refinery workers and supporters before the public DNREC hearing; those in opposition, including an opposing rally by groups opposing the permit; and the DNREC hearing, moved into a larger venue to accommodate the unusually large crowd and reportedly attended by nearly 100 police officers.   The issue is pending before DNREC.  Following the roughly contemporaneous issuance of another permit (PDF), the Air Pollution Control permit for the Marine Vapor Recovery System at the Refinery, however, the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Delaware Audubon Society filed challenges to DNREC’s permit with the state’s Environmental Appeals Board (PDF) and with the Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board (PDF) based in part on assertions that the permit violates Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act.  (The Sierra Club and Audubon Society are represented by the Widener University Environmental Law Clinic, which is also representing the Sierra Club in a currently pending appeal (PDF at 2) to the Delaware Supreme Court of another decision relating to interpretation of the Coastal Zone Act.) Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act (7 Del. C. sec. 7001, et. seq.) was signed into law in 1971 and, as its name suggests, prohibits certain land uses within a zone along Delaware’s coast.  The Act, however, grandfathered in certain activities already occurring within the coastal zone.  Of particular relevance to the Sierra Club’s and Audubon Society’s appeal is the Act’s prohibition on “offshore gas, liquid or solid bulk product transfer facilities” (except those grandfathered in as “nonconforming uses” already occurring in 1971).  See 7. Del. C. sec. 7003.  The appeal, in part, asserts that the Refinery’s expanded rail yard and barge shipment system is a bulk product transfer facility and therefore impermissible under the Coastal Zone Act.  Alternatively, if the operation is otherwise a grandfathered nonconforming use, the appeal asserts that the crude oil transfer is nonetheless impermissible due to the expansion of the refinery’s footprint outside of the permissible grandfathered footprint established in 1971.  The Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board has scheduled a public hearing on the appeal of the Marine Vapor Recovery System permit for July 16, 2013. Adding a slight flavor of intrigue to the dispute is a recent report by the Wilmington News Journal that DNREC issued the permit despite warnings to DNREC from the Delaware Attorney General’s Office that the permit may violate the Coastal Zone Act.  According to the News Journal’s report, “Gov. Jack Markell and top state environmental officials have apparently snubbed and suppressed a warning from state attorneys about possible regulatory violations at the Delaware City Refinery, opting instead to seek outside legal guidance on contested changes at the 210,000 barrel per day plant.”  The News Journal, citing unnamed state officials, reported that the Attorney General’s Office had provided DNREC with a memorandum providing a “detailed list of the refinery’s potential Coastal Zone Act conflicts,” apparently including the refinery’s expanded rail yard and the barge shipments to PBF's Paulsboro Refinery.    Regardless of the News Journal’s report, however, the dispute serves as a reminder of the nationwide stage on which the climate change debate, and by proxy the fight over Canadian tar sands crude, is now fought.     

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