General Motors Joins the War on Coal

Coal is slowly being ousted by natural gas and renewable energies as an energy source. Even General Motors has joined the fight by eradicating the use of coal from its plants, which will allow the automobile company to prosper in a number of ways, including getting a head start on Obama’s fuel economy mandates. GM and Ford have already moved to aluminum bodies and parts for their vehicles; swapping coal for environmentally friendly energy sources is just another step forward for GM.

What does this mean? GM no longer burns coal in its facilities, instead opting for renewable energies. The company has switched coal out for solar panels, wind power, capture landfill gas (a renewable energy), and steam that has been converted from municipal waste. The technology that GM uses to burn coal, called boilers, are no longer needed and have since been shut down. According to Slate, “General Motors is already 87 percent of the way toward its goal of using 125 megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity by 2020.”

Yet, the corporation still relies on coal: it buys power from electrical facilities that burn coal; only 12 percent of GM’s energy sources are derived from renewables. But we can’t fault the car giant for making investments and efforts toward employing better environmental practices and energy mixes. GM’s small changes will result in bigger leaps to better our environment.

(From Slate)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 7, 2015

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“Michael Bloomberg’s war on coal” – Politico, 8 April 2015

The fight to bring an end to coal has been raging on for months, and now Michael Bloomberg is attempting to serve the final blow: donating millions of dollars to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, with the aim to close down hundreds of US coal plants.

First, however, Bloomberg required the Sierra Club to collect data on how his money would be used. He required, for instance, that the organization measure the impact their work would have by mapping out every US coal facility and outlining the facilities’ pollution controls.

The group was successful in collecting data from 45 states. So, in addition to the $50 million he donated in 2011 to the group’s campaign, Bloomberg donated another $110 million, and then donated a supplementary $30 million in early April. So far, the group has secured the shuttering of 188 coal plants. In 2010, these coal plant owners had already planned on closing or re-purposing the plants — the Sierra Club and Bloomberg gave them that extra push. Previously, before Bloomberg’s first donation in 2011, the Sierra Club’s reach was only a mere 15 states.

Bloomberg’s pledge to stop coal has had a profound effect on the industry, wiping out jobs and prompting higher electricity costs. Before, the campaign’s set goal was to shutter a third of US coal plants by 2020. With the extra money, the campaign has presented a new goal: to cut US coal plants in half by 2017.

While Bloomberg was mayor of New York City, we became familiar with his passion for bettering health, spearheading many crusades against guns, sodas, and tobacco. According to Bloomberg, the 188 shuttered coal plants means that there will be 7,500 less heart attacks and 80,000 less asthma attacks in 2015.

Bloomberg has taken his fight against coal a further step by giving $24 million to aid states in developing low-carbon solutions to meet the Obama administration’s power plant regulations.

The Sierra Club doesn’t get all the credit for closing those 188 coal plants. The US’s lower natural gas price is effecting the coal industry, as well as the EPA’s mercury rule, which first became enforced in April 2015 for existing power plants. There are a lot of organizations — both governmental and private — working multiple angles to stop any gains coal might make.

Having said that, coal — the world’s most abundant energy source — will always have an optimum role to play in the global generation of electricity and steel production for a foreseeable future.

(From Politico)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 17, 2015

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“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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“Obama Floats Offering First-Ever Drilling Lease in Atlantic” – AP, 27 January 2015

President Obama has introduced a plan that would allow drilling in parts of the Atlantic Coast, while simultaneously putting an end to any drilling in certain areas in Alaska.

The administration’s proposal concentrates on Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and will sell areas 50 miles off the states’ coasts to oil companies beginning in 2021. Oil companies have been denied access to these areas in the Atlantic Ocean for years, particularly since drilling in those areas was banned in 2008. Additionally, the proposal includes leases for regions in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Leases will be sold between 2017 and 2022.

Many politicians cited the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a reason not to move forward with the proposal, which remains the biggest oil spill of its kind in the US. Since then, regulations on offshore drilling have not improved; Congress has yet to adopt new laws that would make drilling safer. Many believe that drilling in these regions is a misguided way of developing energy — and acquiring energy independence — in the US.

However, politicians in the Southeastern states are backing Obama’s plan, asserting that the new venture will boost the economy by creating jobs and encouraging investments. Currently, the US is experiencing a flood in oil, which has caused oil and gas prices to significantly drop.

Areas chosen to be leased and sold are subject to change. Oil generation from offshore drilling supplies 16 percent of the US’s oil. In order to find oil and gas deposits under the ocean, firms will have to run seismic imaging surveys; a process that can take years, the firms attach seismic air guns to their boats that they will drag for miles on the ocean surface. The guns then radiate air and sound, which assists in mapping 2D and 3D images of the ocean floor.

(From Associated Press)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 28, 2015

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