“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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“Shale-Oil Boom Puts Spotlight on Crude Export Ban” – 1 January 2014, Wall Street Journal

The flood of natural gas might have the US rethinking its ban on crude oil exports, which dates back to the 1970s.

The world’s biggest oil refinery is located in the US, along the Gulf Coast, and is pumping out an oversupply of crude. The abundance of oil is causing prices to crash, forcing producers to look at their other options — i.e. exporting. These last few months, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has been fighting to lift export restrictions, as is Exxon Mobil, the US’s largest energy company. US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has more or less agreed, noting that the bans were instituted during the period of an energy dearth, not an abundance.

Arguments on the ban pit environmentalists, producers, consumers and the government all against each other. Proponents contend that removing the ban will boost the US’s trade deficit; opponents want to retain supplies in the US so that we rely less on the Middle East; others worry about the negative effects of increased drilling on the environment and climate.

The US currently exports coal, electricity, gasoline, diesel and natural gas — everything, it seems, but crude. Crude production is on an upswing in the US, largely due to shale formations located in Texas and North Dakota. It’s predicted that these formations will generate around 7.7 million barrels/day in 2014, and, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), set to grow by 24% to 9.6 million barrels/day in 2019. The onslaught of oil could drive down prices, ultimately slowing the nation’s energy boom.

The only way Congress is likely to immediately act is if the ban induces layoffs of energy workers. Regardless, any revisions to the law won’t be immediate. But the new year might just be Exxon’s, and other major energy companies’, year.

We believe that US oil companies should be allowed to export crude oil as a tool lower trade deficit, and increase export-related high paying domestic jobs.

See also:
Exxon Presses for Exports

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 3, 2014

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“Americans Back Greenhouse Gas Cuts from Power Plants” – USA Today, 13 November 2013

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USA Today

Gone are the days of pretending that climate change isn’t real: according to a recent poll taken by Stanford University, an overwhelming amount of Americans think global warming is a real and serious threat to our world. The concentration of those concerned by global warming were marginally higher in coastal areas — with growing sea levels — and areas plagued by drought.

Stanford’s poll reported that 75% of American adults believe that global warming has been continually occurring, while 84% or more of those living in drought-stricken states (Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas) or states susceptible to rising tides (Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island) also believe in global warming.

Though many in Congress postulate that global warming and climate change haven’t been happening, US adults don’t agree. A majority do agree, however, that environmental warming is mainly due to human activities (ranging from 65% in Utah to 92% in Rhode Island) and that the government is right to place limits on power plants’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (ranging from 62% in Utah to 90% in New Hampshire). Surprisingly, polls from the major coal-producing states of Kentucky and West Virginia were high as well: 78% for Kentucky and 85% for West Virginia.

A national Pew poll from October found that there is a rift in the Republican party: only 25% of Tea Party Republicans believe there’s evidential support of global warming, while 61% of other Republicans agree. The Pew poll also reported that 67% of Americans believe in the effects of global warming.

People who do not believe in manmade global warming are obviously living in an “Echo Chamber” — i.e. they are moved only by ideological belief (similar to the pre-Copernicus thinking that the “sun goes around earth”), and not persuaded by scientific data-driven facts.

Among the most popular questions on Stanford’s poll were whether more efforts should be made to increase energy efficiency for cars, appliances and buildings; and if there should be tax incentives to generate renewable energy, and curb air pollution from coal.

Last week, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power introduced legislation that could obstruct Obama’s sweeping climate policy reforms to restrict new power plants’ carbon emissions. If all goes well for Obama, then next year his policy will be enacted by the EPA, which will also introduce new restrictions for existing power plants.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 14, 2013

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“Administration Presses Ahead with Limits on Emissions from Power Plants” – New York Times, 19 September 2013

Obama has finally made good on his second inaugural address promise to curb the affects of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Last Friday, Obama’s new regulations were introduced by the EPA‘s administrator Gina McCarthy, which aim to pass the first federal carbon caps on US power companies.

According to the proposed regulations, new natural gas-fired power plants will be restricted to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour, and new coal plants will be restricted to 1,100 pounds. Coal power plants are also required to install a new technology called “carbon capture and sequestration,” which cleans their emissions of carbon dioxide before the emissions are released. The technology transfers the carbon dioxide into permanent storage underground.

In addition, McCarthy will embark on a yearlong series of meetings across the US, which will engage the public, industry and environmental groups on how the EPA should address emissions restrictions on existing power plants.

Obama has decided to circumvent Congress on his proposed climate change regulations. Republicans argue that the new technology the administration wants to implement is costly and will increase the price of electricity — a technology to cheaply decrease carbon emissions has yet to be developed. Industry representatives contend that the “carbon capture and sequestration” technology has not been employed on a large scale, and violates the Clean Air Act, which requires new regulations to not be costly, while also demonstrating functionality.

The new proposed regulations are more manageable than the administration’s 2012 version, the current version supplying coal plant operators with more time to meet the GHG limits. The EPA has also provided for even more flexibility by allowing plants, existing or new, that install the new technology within one year to meet the 1,100 pound limit. Plant owners also have the choice of incorporating the limits over a seven year period — those who go that route would be obligated to meet a more rigid limit of 1,000-1,050 pounds, averaged over the seven years.

The Energy Information Administration recently reported that 40% of 2012′s greenhouse gas emissions originated from power plants, a bulk of that coming from coal-burning power plants. Existing coal plants currently spew almost 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per hour. Obama wants the GHG limits intact before his second term is over in 2017.

We are glad that some concrete steps have been taken to combat climate change. Obama’s executive order through the EPA is the only way to curb GHG in our overly polarized political environment. EPA action was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court as having legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

Obama and the EPA’s efforts have been vigorously attacked by the coal industry and climate change-deniers. Then again, nothing great has ever been accomplished without strong attack by the negatively affected party — a sign of a well-functioning healthy democracy.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 23, 2013

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