“4 Ways Election Results Could Intensify U.S. Energy Battles” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

After November’s midterm elections and the newly elected Republican majority in the both houses of Congress, President Obama might have a difficult time moving forward with his climate policy agenda. Now there’s a chance that Republicans will obstruct the EPA‘s funding so that it won’t be able to enact its proposed regulations of curbing power plants emissions. Meanwhile, we might get closer to authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and repealing our 1970s crude oil export ban. Only a few days before the elections, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change issued another report with grave warnings about the effects of climate change.

One method that Republicans can employ to hinder the Obama administration is with a joint congressional resolution of disapproval, which asks for a majority vote in favor of blocking proposed regulations. However, in order to advance their own bills, Republicans need 60 votes to stop filibusters by Senate Democrats, or a two-thirds majority to quash any of Obama’s vetoes.

Though those odds might seem unlikely, the Republicans can still play a huge hand in climate policy and the energy debate by:

  1. Further Opposing the EPA‘s Power Plant Regulations
    Previously, climate activist and Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; however, now the position will transfer to Republican Senator James Inhofe (OK), a staunch climate denier and author of the 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.That title itself says it all. Inhofe is staunchly again the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. So it’s reasonable to assume that his goal — along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — is to block funding for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, where the EPA’s goal is to reduce existing power plants’ emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

  2. Advancing the Keystone XL Pipeline
    Another one of McConnell’s targets is the Keystone XL Pipeline — he would do whatever possible to advance the project, including strategizing a plan that would make sure the legislation would end up on Obama’s desk. Obama would then have to either approve the pipeline or use his veto power.Obama is more likely to approve the pipeline if it has no impact on emissions; according to the State Department, Keystone will not increase emissions.
  3. Increasing Fossil Fuel Exports
    Republicans are now more motivated than ever to end the circa-1970s crude oil export ban that was authorized amid the Arab oil embargo. So far, the Department of Energy has already authorized a few projects that would allow the US to export natural gas, but Republicans would like to push more through.Many Republicans and those in the oil industry contend that exporting crude could push gas prices down even more. Environmentalists assert that repealing the ban might prompt the US to generate more oil, at the cost of the environment.
  4. Introducing a Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill
    Republican Senator Rob Portman (OH) and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) have created a bipartisan bill that advocates for energy efficiency in many spheres, including residential, commercial, and federal buildings. The bill tried to get through the Senate in 2014, but was unable to because of the debate around Keystone. The bill will have another go, but might very well be blocked by Republicans who don’t support implementing rules that require stronger efficiency guidelines for appliances.

(From National Geographic)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 26, 2015

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“Top Court to Weigh Pollution Standards” – Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2014

This past November, the US Supreme Court surveyed the case that presents the US’s first standards obligating power plants to curb mercury emissions and various air toxins, one of many major elements in President Obama’s newly introduced climate policy.

The case is being disputed by the utility industry and almost two dozen states, namely states where coal is a major player in their economies. The case will go to trial in the spring and the court will reach a decision in June 2015. Concurrently, Obama is is working on more regulations that will reduce existing power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.

The EPA also introduced an amended national standard for ground-level ozone, or smog, in November; enforcement of renewed ozone standards rely on the mercury rule. The mercury rule was initially proposed in 2012 and will be enforced beginning in April 2015 for existing power plants, which obligates plants that are powered by coal and oil to eliminate most of their mercury emissions.

What falls on the Supreme Court is whether the EPA’s new regulations should acknowledge how much the regulations will cost utilities. This has been an ongoing complaint from utility and power companies, and many coal states, which assert that placing restrictions on power plants will drive up the cost of electricity. According to these companies and states, the EPA’s rules will increase utility industry costs by $9.6 billion per year.

The EPA argues that the public-health gains from reducing air pollutants surpass any additional costs to utilities: the public will benefit $37 billion to $90 billion per year, and avoid 11,000 deaths per year.

The result of this case can affect EPA regulations, such as the agency’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions from almost 600 fossil fuel-fired plants, which was supported by the Supreme Court in 2007. If the court doesn’t rule in favor of the EPA, the EPA might not have as much power — or be as ambitious — in the future.

This month, the EPA will distribute final emissions standards for new power plants; the agency will issue similar standards for existing power plants this summer. The mercury rule instructs coal utilities to use scrubbers, which will help lower emissions. Many facilities have been given an extra year to install scrubber technology.

(From Wall Street Journal)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 14, 2015

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“A Climate Accord Based on Global Peer Pressure” – New York Times, 14 December 2014

Last month, almost 200 nations gathered in Lima, Peru to agree on a global pact to reduce fossil fuel emissions, one of the primary causes of climate change. The deal — called the Lima Accord — shows huge progress in global effort to fight the effects of climate change: it’s the first time that these nations will make a unilateral effort to curb the use of oil, gas, and coal.

However, the Lima Accord is not lawfully mandatory. If it were legally binding, then the nearly 200 nations wouldn’t have agreed to the deal — not even the US. Instead, the hope is that global peer pressure will be the impetus to move the accord forward. At this point, every nation has agreed to place limits on its carbon emissions.

According to the accord, each nation will have to introduce carbon-cutting domestic legislation by either March or June. Laws will delineate how each country will curb emissions after 2020. These proposals are known to the UN as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” which will be included in an upcoming climate deal in Paris in 2015.

But because the Lima Accord has no requirements, countries could conceive of feeble plans that wouldn’t drastically combat the effects of climate change. Countries also have the choice of not even offering a plan — and if they don’t submit a plan, there are no fines or retribution.

Again, the accord relies on peer pressure and a method called “name-and-shame.” Each countries’ plan will be posted to the UN’s site as public information. If the countries’ plans are made public and some are found to be weak in comparison, then the shame of such a weakness will hopefully push that country to strengthen its plan.

The biggest worry comes with the top three polluters: the US, China, and India. While President Obama has tried to make climate change a vital element of his second term, his legacy really depends on what happens after his term is over. He has vowed to reduce emissions by at least 28 percent by 2025, which can be attained if tailpipe and power plant emissions regulations are passed. Unfortunately, most Republican White House contenders are staunch opponents of Obama’s climate change policies and likely don’t care about global urgencies.

China has been pushed to seek methods of reducing emissions due to discord among its citizens, as citizens disapproved of China’s worsening air quality. The country has now eclipsed the US as the number one polluter — President Xi Jinping has promised that China’s emissions will spike in 2030 and then fall. In order to ensure that target, the country is enacting a national cap-and-trade structure where polluters will have to purchase greenhouse gas emissions.

Because curbing emissions can be costly, it is a difficult burden for developing nations. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast aside any efforts towards reversing climate change, instead focusing on economic growth and poverty, which could mean building new coal power plants. However, India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has stated that the country will offer a plan in June.

Other countries that climate change policy observers are following are Russia and Australia. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin doesn’t believe that humans cause climate change, and Australia has phased out its Department of Climate Change, and also revoked a carbon tax.

While we have a majority of the countries on board with the deal, there are a few important strays that will determine whether or not the Lima Accord is indeed productive.

(From New York Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 15, 2014

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“GOP oil titan: Keystone’s irrelevant” – Politico, 14 November 2014

Though the Keystone XL pipeline has been a hot-button issue with environmentalists, it seems that it has become an irrelevant discussion. The pipeline was introduced in 2005, and still no decision has been made about its construction. In October, the House approved a bill that would authorize the pipeline; however, a few days later, the bill failed to pass through the Senate. If it had passed, the bill would have gone directly to President Obama, though it’s likely he would have vetoed it.

But all that might change when the new Republican-majority Congress reconvenes in January. In fact, it has become the mission of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell (KY) to have the bill pass. It’s probable that the bill will pass both Congress legislatures, but the bill will need 67 votes in favor in order to quash a presidential veto.

Regardless of the pipeline’s importance, proponents firmly contend that the $8 billion pipeline will allow for a flood of new jobs and bolster North American energy independence; but opponents believe that it will increase fossil fuels and further incite the effects of climate change.

It seems like the oil industry has moved on from Keystone; oil companies are employing other pipelines to carry their oil. Furthermore, the US now has an abundance of oil, which has reduced prices. Bringing more oil in from Canada doesn’t seem like the best plan.

What some suggest — like Harold Hamm, the CEO of Oklahoma’s Continental Resources — is that the US should end its crude oil export ban, which would make the oil market fairer for US oil companies. Congress imposed the ban in the 1970s due to the worry that we were becoming too reliant on foreign oil. Now that US oil prices have dropped, Saudi Arabia is attempting to undercut our prices so that it can recover what it has lost in the market. Further, a lift on the ban could help Ukraine and European countries that are under the thumb of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Conversely, if the ban is lifted, we could see gas prices soar; lawmakers would become our scapegoat.

(From Politico)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 29, 2014

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